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My father was a piece of shit. Twenty years ago, he turned himself over to the feds and pled guilty to human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and murder. He was supposed to be in prison for the rest of his life, but a couple weeks ago he got released to a nursing home on compassionate leave. He had pancreatic cancer. It’s a beast. Almost nobody survives two years after diagnosis, and it hurts so much you want to die anyway.

I don’t really know why, but I decided to visit him. The thought made my skin crawl, but the reality wasn’t so bad. I’m actually surprised he told me this story. I don’t know if I believe him, but I can’t get it out of my head.

It started with a transport order.

My dad was basically a part-time drug runner, but for people instead of narcotics. He did the heavy shit, transporting large shipments of human cargo to pimps and other bulk buyers, along with occasional deliveries for private clients.

His performed his very last delivery for just such a client. The guy wanted him to drop off a “very special little girl” to “her new daddy.” It made him laugh a little, these rich fuckers with their euphemisms.

My dad got instructions to meet at a dropoff point outside Lancaster at 10PM. He and his partner, Christophe, arrived early. The moon wasn’t out that night, but that’s what you want out in the high desert. The stars are spectacular: brilliant swirls of constellations so clear you can discern the color of every sparkling pinprick with the naked eye. Stars aren’t white, you know; they’re red and yellow, orange and blue, purple and pink. The desert’s combination of thin atmosphere, clear skies, and high altitude plunges you right into a dreamscape.

It was under this hallucinatory blanket of stars that my father took possession of a crying boy with bound hands and a smiling girl in literal chains.

Their contact was incredibly skittish of the girl. “Don’t lose her,” he warned. “Don’t matter what she does, you keep her locked down tight. Let her do what she wants to the boy no matter what. And I mean, no matter what.

“Don’t worry.” My dad fought the urge to roll his eyes; he’d done this a hundred times, after all.

“Just be careful. It’s a long drive.” The man gave my dad a look that made him nervous: half pity, half relief.

After loading the kids into my dad’s van, the dude peeled out. Watching his red taillights bounce and fade across the sand gave my dad a bad feeling.

The girl kept smiling and the boy kept crying. Finally, my dad tried to quiet him down. Conversation isn’t exactly encouraged under these circumstances, but the kid’s bleating was putting Christophe on edge. Chris had anger problems and jobs made him nervous, so my dad was keen to keep everyone calm.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Alex,” was the tearful answer.

“What’s the matter? You got food and water and a blanket, so why are you crying?”

“Because,” Alex wept, “she’s scary.”

My dad glanced the girl in the rearview mirror. She smiled widely in return, baring unremarkable milk teeth. “What do you mean? She looks perfectly nice to me. What’s your name, sweetie?”

She continued to smile.

“She doesn’t talk when people are awake.” Alex wiped his face. “Only when they’re asleep.”

“How would you know that?” Dad asked.

“She told me in my dreams.” And, with a sad little hiccup, he kept crying. Chris’s hands tightened dangerously on the steering wheel.

Now, it really was a long drive. Their destination lay deep in the Arizonan boonies. Believe it or not, there are a lot of rich people there, lots of secluded estates pocking that wild, desolate landscape like boils.

Around two in the morning, the boy started whining. “I have to pee.”

“Only been a couple hours, kiddo,” Chris snapped.

Judging by his heartbroken expression, this was perhaps the most tragic thing Alex had ever heard.

“It’s been more than a couple hours,” Dad said. “Pull over. Don’t need a couple babies pissing themselves in the back seat.”

Chris obeyed, as usual. My dad walked Alex around to the back and waited while the boy finished his business. The girl pressed her face to the window, toothy smile plastered to her face. She looked like a perfectly normal little girl, but the whole situation was starting to freak him out. The sooner this run was done, the better.

He loaded Alex inside, then took the girl out. He figured that’s why she’d been watching; clearly she had to piss, too. He wasn’t quite sure how well she’d manage in her chains, though. They were ridiculous: shackles on her wrists and ankles, and what looked like a chastity belt around her hips. He had a key, but it was for the client to use, not him.

He walked her out into the desert and turned his back while maintaining a firm hold on her chain. Sure enough, a rustle of clothing and telltale hiss sounded. Perfectly normal.

Until it kept going.

Confused, my dad turned around.

The girl was down on all fours. An enormous, segmented tail arched over her body, and her face was turned inside out.

A massive, pulsating mouth dominated the glistening inversion of her head. Runnels and rifts of flesh glimmered with starry knots of light. Dozens and dozens of pearly milk teeth erupted from the mass. She faced the sky like a nightblooming flower. Starlight gathered into a soft, hazy spotlight around her, seeming to pour into her enormous mouth.

My dad didn’t know how long he stood there. When he finally came to, the first traces of dawn stained the horizon and Chris was kneeling on the sand beside him, blank-eyed and open-mouthed. The little boy, whoever he was, was long gone.

The girl finally melted back into her human form, smiling winningly as the sun rose. Chris snapped out of the spell abruptly and began to panic.

“We can’t take that thing.”

“We’re going to do what we’re told, or we’re going to get killed.”

“Already will because we let that fucking little kid run off. You know what’s going to happen? He’ll identify us.”

“Desert’s going to kill him,” my dad said.

“What about the client?

He remembered what the contact said about letting the girl do whatever she wanted to Alex. “I don’t think anybody wants him, Chris. I think he was food.”

Chris gaped, then laughed, then screamed: “Well, if the little bitch didn’t get her snack, she must hungry! Where does that leave us?”

“Needing to finish the run now,” my dad answered.

They sped along desert highways, racing to compensate for the hours lost the night before. In the early afternoon, they reached their destination: a modern mansion surrounded by a carefully engineered courtyard straight out of the antebellum south, incongruous against the rugged mountains, sloping deserts and high, striated cliffs.

Except for the gaudy house, everything was beautiful desolation, my father thought. The end of the world and the beginning of the world meeting in this breathtaking little corner of the earth.

As they parked, the girl uttered a strange chuckle: rhythmic and surprisingly low for her body. Through her parted lips, my dad saw flashes of starry light.

A man in a white suit rushed out to welcome them with a predatory smile. His eyes were cold and angry, of course: he’d expected them at dawn, and it was already after lunch.

My dad eagerly went to greet him, leaving Chris alone with the girl.

The man pulled my father close and hissed: “What took so long?”

“She needed a break,” my dad answered. “We couldn’t exactly tell her no, hey?”

“The boy?”

Dread coiled in my father’s belly. “What about him?”

The white-suited man bared his teeth again, much closer to a snarl than a smile. “Did she eat?” he hissed.

The lie came easy: “Yes.”

The buyer shouldered my father aside and strode eagerly to the vehicle. Dad started to follow, but stopped dead when he saw all the doors were open.

The buyer poked his head inside. “Where’s my special girl? Daddy’s he –”

He broke off and screamed.

Dad ran over, trying to ignore the nausea bubbling in his belly. He could only think of the lights in the girl’s inverted head, starry and pulsating, utterly hypnotic. The lights that had blazed to life again just as he left the car.

Dad shoved the buyer out of the way. The girl was gone. Chris slumped in his seat. A pile of chains and a strange little chastity belt dangled from his hands, and blood sheeted from a massive puncture in his throat. His face was terribly, hideously bloated. Dark veins and livid discoloration contrasted sharply with milky pallor.

Chris wheezed, then vomited a spray of clear, glistening liquid that covered Dad’s hands. He watched, mesmerized, as it bonded to his fingers like gloves and began to painlessly dissolve his flesh.

The buyer screamed again. Dad whirled around as armed security burst into the yard and surrounded a flowered hedge.

For one mesmerizing moment, an enormous, barbed tail arched and danced over the frantic knot of bodies. Then it plunged down. A meaty pop accompanied a scream as blood spattered across the lush lawn. Gunfire roared, followed by another pop and another scream, then another and another in a maddening succession until finally, everything fell silent.

The girl rose from the pile of bodies, inverted head glistening with starry lights and blood. Tiny teeth pulsed in time with the hypnotic lights.

When she saw him, her face slid out of her mouth and rewrapped itself around her head. She smiled widely, oblivious to the gore streaking her skin.

They watched each other. Heat and painfully still air suffocated him. His ears began to ring.

The girl returned to her feast, enthusiastically tearing chunks of mingled flesh and clothing from her prey.

The spell broke. My father rushed into the mansion and tried to call 911. His phone had no signal, so he ran around in search of a landline. When he found one, the dispatcher warned him that it would take at least forty minutes because the house was so very isolated.

When the police finally arrived, the girl was gone. The pile of dismembered corpses remained. My father took the fall. He pled guilty to everything, even the murders, because it meant he would go to prison. Nothing can get out of prison, sure, but nothing can get in.

By the time Dad finished the story, he was sobbing. The nurses ushered me away angrily, telling me to visit tomorrow.

I couldn’t even if I’d wanted to, because he died that night. It’s no great loss to the world or me, but it would have been nice to discuss a few questions. You know, like “Does anybody know or care what happened to Alex?” and “Why would a rich pedophile knowingly buy a sex slave that eats people?” I don’t know.

I hope the story’s true, though. For what it’s worth, Dad had no hands. He lost them in a double amputation right after his arrest because the flesh had somehow melted off, leaving nothing but damaged bone.

98

It’s been a long time since I talked to anyone about my little sister Alice. I went to a therapist for a while, until the nightmares trickled to a stop. I’ve tried to put her out of my mind as much as I can, tried to soothe the hurt and the loss and the things I remember feeling on the day she disappeared, and through the long years growing up without her. It’s been a long time since I looked at a picture of her, opened up one of her handmade birthday cards scribbled in bright crayon, or laid back and thought about the idyllic summer days we used to spend with our mother and Aunt Claire.

It’s been a long time. I thought I’d healed. Maybe I had. But that old wound has been ripped open again, and now I’m bleeding freely, with no idea what to make of things. Maybe if I talk about it, you can do what no family member, police officer, friend, school counselor, or therapist has been able to do, and help me make sense of things, and myself.

Alice was born when I was 4 years old. She was an angelic child, who looked like our mother and Aunt Claire. Her light hair never darkened, and her baby-blue eyes stayed blue, like little twin gems under a cascade of blonde. She was a happy baby, and a happy little girl. I was a tomboy and I had my troubles, and you might have expected us not to get along, but we were thick as thieves and could spend days barely talking to anyone else. Our father gave hearty laughs and patted us on the back. Our mother smiled and shook her head. They were glad, I think, for the lack of usual sibling conflict. We were a peaceful family.

In the summers Dad would go on his business trips, and Mom, Alice, and I would visit our Aunt Claire while he was away. Aunt Claire lived on a little acreage on the outskirts of the city, and Alice and I would go hiking through the woods to the creek to play while Mom and Aunt Claire talked or read or busied themselves around the house.

There were places on the acreage we weren’t supposed to go: not too close to the drop-off where the creek shallowed out, because the sandstone was mossy and we could slip and fall; not too close to the fence, in case the neighbors mistook us for trespassers; and not to the old well in the western corner of the property, because it was disused and crumbling and we might fall in. Alice and I broke the first two rules regularly, but the well was far from Aunt Claire’s house and even when we were in the mood to break rules we never both wanted to go at the same time.

Summers were good like this until I was 13 years old and Alice was 9. One awful day in July, two weeks after my 13th birthday, Alice and I made a plan. We packed a little lunch and snuck a flashlight in with it. We brought a canteen of water and I put a sun hat on Alice because her little blonde head sunburned easily. I took my pocketknife, which I was prepared to wield in case we needed to make a daring escape from some fantastical danger. We whispered to each other as we started out on our usual trail into the woods: we were going to visit the well.

The walk went fine for most of the way. We laughed and stomped and chatted, picked flowers and put them in each other’s hair. Aunt Claire had let Alice wear one of her rings, a thin silver band with a bright blue stone, and it glittered and sparkled when it caught the sun. About halfway there, we stopped to snack on the lunch we’d packed, and then continued on our way. Getting up from our luncheon recline, Alice stumbled and scraped her ankle. Blood dripped lazily onto her sock and I patched her up with a band-aid before we continued on.

When we reached the well, it felt like it had taken forever to get there, and like it had taken no time at all. I think in our heads we had been expecting something hidden, something mysterious. We were forbidden here, and the atmosphere just didn’t match up. We weren’t disappointed for long, though, and quickly took to exploring. I found myself a nice little rock, and Alice picked more flowers. I was watching her try to tie them into a chain, when she stopped and her face turned strange. She put the flowers down and trudged over to me, her little self suddenly looking so very tired.

Eyes downcast, she rested an arm over her stomach and said, “Sis, I don’t feel good. Can we go home?” She looked up at me and her eyes were immediate and pleading. I nodded, dropping my rock and shouldering my bag that held the remains of our food.

“Sure, Allie-cat,” I said. I took her hand and we turned around and started back.

It was only a couple seconds of walking before she stopped. Her hand fell from mine and she stood rigid. She looked at me again, eyes wide, and my stomach dropped as I saw terror.

A dark cast seemed to fall on the area where we stood. I tried to move, but I was rooted to the spot. By contrast, it seemed Alice was struggling to stay still, or to come to me, but I instead I watched helplessly as she turned and walked stiffly back toward the well. I fought and strained to move, but it was to no avail. Something in my brain, some primal, animal fear, was crying out that we were in deep danger, that we had to go, now, that we had to escape, to flee, to run far far away and never come back. But I couldn’t move, and she couldn’t stop.

It was an old-style well, like the kind you see in cartoons. A circle of stone with a roof to shield it, and a bar from which a bucket would have hung were it still in use. It was large enough for a child to fall down. It was empty, dry, and the roof was falling apart.

I watched my sister climb onto the stone wall. She turned to look at me, terrified, as she slipped Aunt Claire’s ring off her finger and dropped it down into the well. My skin buzzed and crawled. The hairs on the back of my neck stood stiff. I felt like the air was being sucked out of my lungs. She lowered herself down to sit on the wall of the well. My body grew cold. Sick nausea rose. Dread froze me as surely as whatever force was keeping me stock-still. I couldn’t even open my mouth to say her name.

She pushed herself in.

In my head I screamed. I screamed and screamed. On the outside, I stayed unable to move. Panic and dread swirled in me, shock and disbelief. My skin was on fire and my veins were like ice. There was a sound, more in my head than in the world around me; a sound like the shifting of some great beast, like the movement of a thousand years of fear inside a human child’s brain. I was released. I collapsed to the ground and vomited. I hauled myself up and ran to the well. I braced my hands against it and stared wild-eyed into the inky darkness. I screamed her name.

I don’t know how I got home. I remember running. I remember coming in sight of the house, screaming myself hoarse for Mom and Aunt Claire. I remember the fear in their eyes.

I remember the well becoming a crime scene. I remember crying, talking to a police officer. I remember my vomit and the bag I dropped in the woods becoming evidence. I remember my pocketknife being taken. I remember when we left for the well it was 10 in the morning and when I came desperately back, the evening was sinking into night. I remember stumbling around in a daze, the frigid echoes of that fear still in me. That fear hasn’t left.

My therapist said I have PTSD. She said I have anxiety, too, and a distrust of people and situations. I’m always on my guard. I used to have the worst nightmares, where I was again gripped by the force and the fear. I used to break down when I thought about all the crying I and my family did in the months succeeding Alice’s disappearance. I still cry about it sometimes on lonely nights, and I still have flashbacks. I still feel the icy ghost of haunting dread.

I call it a disappearance. I guess that it was a death, but they never found her body. The police looked in the well, in the surrounding woods, even in Aunt Claire’s house, the neighbor’s houses, and our house. No trace of Alice was ever found. It was like she fell into the well, and vanished into thin air. When I tried to explain how Alice was compelled to move and I was compelled to stay, Aunt Claire consoled me and told me it was okay to have been afraid, that people freeze sometimes, that Alice probably thought the well was shallow instead of deep and she’d be fine. They didn’t believe me, and the strange, horrible circumstance of her fall into the well was dismissed. The opening to the well was covered over.

At school I became quiet and lonesome. I did my work well and did little else. My parents tried to stay together, I really think they did, but Dad blamed himself for not being there, and Mom blamed me for not doing anything. I was sent to the school counselor, and she recommended therapy. After months had passed and I wasn’t getting any better, I was put on an antidepressant and an anxiolytic, and those combined with intermittent therapy over the years allowed me to get through high school. My parents divorced soon after I started 9th grade. My mother took me, and my father disappeared from my life.

I’ve tried not to think about all this. I’m still a loner, still prone to sleeplessness, still on medication, still hypervigilant. I’m at odds with my mother and have no idea where my father is. I have all my childhood pictures of Alice packed away.

Last week Aunt Claire died.

My mother and I drove out to her house.

We packed away her things, began to arrange for her house to be sold.

I told my mother I would bring the last load of items to our storage unit, and my mother went home.

I went to the well.

It was a long walk, longer than I remembered. The summer sun dappled through the trees, there was a little breeze, and the walk was almost peaceful. I don’t know why I went. My therapist would probably tell me I wanted closure.

When I got to the well, the forest was still. I seized up, suddenly sure that the dread would grip me again, that I would be compelled to walk to the well and throw myself in. Nothing happened. I relaxed, a fullness aching in my throat, and I stared at the place that killed my sister with my arms slack at my sides. Slowly the sounds of a calm and living forest crept in again. Birds twittered, limbs and leaves shirred in the breeze. I was ready to go when I saw it.

A blue ring glinted on the rim of the well. Alice’s ring.

For a moment I didn’t move. Then I dashed forward, grabbed the ring, and ran away from that place as quickly as I could. I didn’t stop until I had to, and I got myself to the house in a blur of mad panic and heaving breath. I checked that the house was locked and I scrambled into my car. I sped home.

Now here I am, home at my kitchen table. The last of Aunt Claire’s things are in my car. Alice’s ring sits on the counter. It glints in the last rays of the setting sun. I know I will dream about her tonight. I had myself convinced that maybe, just maybe, there was some rational explanation for what happened to us that day. Now I don’t know anything. I don’t know what stood me still and forced her to climb in. I don’t know where the ring came from. I don’t know what happened to Alice’s body. I don’t know what will happen to me.

68

My Kid Brother

Society dictates we should love our family. We should go above and beyond for them in any situation. To never abandon them. This is not one of those stories.

Since we were boys I feared my brother. I had no reason to, I was 4 years older, bigger and stronger. I played violent sports and video games. I had a knack for the sort of restrained and socially accepted type of violence. I had my problems in school and with other kids, but I was never aggressive enough to label me as the type of violent person society hates and outcasts so much. The bad apple. I was an angry kid, my mother had abandoned my father and I when I was a baby and dad was always busy, so for the most part I was always alone. But people always clung to the fact I had a “good heart” and deep down was a good person. I like to think I had a “decent heart” and half way to china down was a good person. I was a really angry kid. On the other hand, my brother never had a chance. You could see the scary, buried deep down behind those crystal blue eyes. Hidden behind that disarming smile. I couldn’t help but fear him... After my mother left me as an infant she disappeared for nearly 4 years. When she returned from hiding she had a baby. My dad and the courts made me go down to Oklahoma and visit her twice a year, which I hated. I hated Oklahoma , especially where she lived. It was a small, ancient town with nothing to do. I hated the fact I was forced to do something I didn’t want to do. I hated that baby. My kid brother. He was the youngest of the family, and my mother doted on him to no end. She turned a blind eye to his darkness. As a baby he would look at you, through you, like he knew exactly where you were going to end up. He didn’t laugh and smile like a normal baby. He frowned. Constantly. He wouldn’t pet animals, he would grab and tear at their fur and squeal with joy. On one of my return trips to Oklahoma, I was about 7, my brother 3. We sat up late one night in my mother’s trailer watching horror movies. My brother loved horror movies. The real gory slasher kind that should haunt a little kid but tickled him with glee. He would sit in front of the tv, 2 feet away, eyes wide and face reflected back at him. In it, the main protagonist in a cheesy mask had just finished murdering a whole family and stopped in his tracks when he passed by his first victim on the way out the door and found a cat licking up the blood. He picked up the cat and shattered it against the wall. I was an animal lover and that was where I drew the line. That was fucked up to watch, but my brother loved it. As I removed my hands from my eyes I watched my brother smiling, pick up the small pregnant black cat from the trailer park my mother took pity on and launch it backwards, end over end into the wall, wailing the whole time. Hard. I launched at my brother and attacked him which woke my mother up. She beat the shit out of me for hitting my brother. I was too big, and it wasn’t allowed. No matter what he did. I could accidentally kill him, she said. I spent the rest of the night, eyes swollen shut, locked in a room listening to the repeated dull thud against the wall opposite me, followed by a sharp wail and giggles. Until the wailing stopped. The thuds did not. I fell asleep to the thuds after what felt like hours. The next morning, I woke up and walked to the bathroom, the night before a fog. A nightmare. I realized it wasn’t when I walked into the living room and found a dead cat at the base of the wall. I picked it up and buried it outside, crying the whole time. I told my mother in hushed tones over breakfast. She made up some excuse about how he would grow out of it. Even at that age I wasn’t convinced.

As we aged he grew more violent. He grew jealous of me. According to him I was the lucky one. I was good at sports, had a girlfriend, did well in school. He hated me, it felt like. He began to refer to me as the Chosen One, which I didn’t understand. He would attack me with whatever he could when I was visiting my mother. Remotes, ash trays, knives, rocks, etc. If he could lift it, he would throw it. And no matter what, I could never retaliate. My mother would buy into my brother’s fake tears anytime I did. And she would retaliate in her own way. I learned to be quiet and avoid him as best I could. His violence had outgrown the home front. He took a knife to school and threatened someone because he “didn’t like fags in his school” He cracked a classmate’s skull with a lunch tray for insulting him. He got in fights constantly and won them more often the not. His brutality unmatched by others his age. His darkness seeped out of him. He broadcasted on Facebook his perverse ways. His anger and since of hatred. Rumors began flying among the rest of our family that he was practicing dark arts. My mother found a large book, bound in human skin in his room. Dead animals in the back yard. Speaking in tongues. Eventually the rumors spread around their small town in Oklahoma. Rumors that he was a Satanist. That he drank blood and fucked dead corpses. I was 17 when he was kicked out of school, and I would receive calls daily from my mother begging me to talk to him, to help her calm his wickedness. She had tried everything she exclaimed but I had closed that door long ago. I had decided I wouldn’t return after my 18th birthday, after I was free from court ordered visits. On our last meeting grudgingly hugged my brother and told him Id be back. Id keep in touch. Ill be back for you I told him. His only reply, a calm “Don’t worry Nick, I’ll find you.” I had lied. I drove away and never looked back. I changed my phone number and never told the rest of my family. I changed addresses. I moved on. I got a good job. Met a wonderful woman. I was living a good life. It had been years since I had even thought of him until one night I was watching a horror movie with my fiancé, and it reminded me of my kid brother. The look of glee on the killer’s face as he slashed and stabbed. I showed a picture of my brother to my fiancé and told her if you see this man get my gun and shoot on site. He was dangerous, and she shouldn’t be alone with him if she could avoid it. I just had a weird feeling he was just around the corner, haunting me like he did as a child. But he never showed.

That lasted 5 years, 5 long peaceful years. Until yesterday. My paranoia had gotten the best of me. I had kept minimal tabs on my family in the south. Every once in awhile I would Google my sisters, brother, mom, and grandparents. Just to make sure they were still alive and well but didn’t care enough to search me out. This Google search was different. I had an order to which I would look up my family members names, and my brother was always last. For some reason I searched for him first. An article greeted me, his face blown up on the cover. He had committed suicide the day before. Gunshot wound to the head. No suicide note. Nothing. All he left behind was his disgusting room, buried beneath layers of teenage angst and the occult. It was a mystery. I couldn’t help but shed a tear. I feared him, and we weren’t close by any means. But he was my little brother, and something about me being alive and him dead really bothered me. I began to have dreams. Vivid dreams. I would be in my bed, wife next to me, when I would wake up to see my brother standing next to me. Just…...watching. I would go to talk, but he would always beat me to it. “YOU NEVER CAME BACK” he would yell, over and over, so quickly it seemed as if the words would trip over each other. I would go to rise, but he would pin me back down to the bed with a knife through my chest. As I lay dying, breath ragged, he would lean in close and whisper into my ear, but I would wake up before I heard what he had said. Over time these dreams faded and were replaced by another. I would be standing in an empty room, with a large concrete slab in the middle. My brother would be on it, cold and motionless. He would suddenly burst into flame, fat popping and skin smoking black. His eyes would open wide and fixate on me. “Does this scare you brother?” he would ask. “Does my imperfection frighten you!?” his mouth twisting into a sick grin. “Does the chosen one have something to say?” Eyes boiling and bursting, spraying my face. Then I would wake up. The dreams became a nightly occurrence. I began to have trouble sleeping. I lost weight. My wife started retreating from me. Almost frightened. She said it was something to do with my eyes. The Nick she knew wasn’t there anymore. My life became a fog, me drudging through it like someone else was controlling me feet. During one of my fitful nights of sleep I had one of my old dreams of him. The knife plunging through my chest. Him leaning in. But this time, for some reason, I didn’t wake up and finally heard what he had been attempting to whisper to me. “You never came back, but lucky for you I have. Or should I say lucky for me. I told you I would find you. I have come back to take everything from you. I have come back to bury you. I’m here for you Chosen One.” His last words coming out of his mouth with a hiss.

I have been trapped for so long now. My hair has greyed. Skin, wrinkled and sagging. Or should I say, my brothers. I had never woken up from my dream I had realized, as the years dragged on. Well, not in the sense you would consider. My brother had come back for me, in a way. All those years he had been practicing. Waiting. Buying time until he felt ready. To make it work it required a sacrifice, his human skin bound book told him. So, he offered himself. He had made the deal with the devil, to escape the life he had lived. He needed more freedom he had decided, to learn more and grow more powerful. He couldn’t do so in his body you see, he had to much attention on him. No one would hire him, no one would love him. Something would go wrong. So, he took mine. He forced me into a dark corner of my own mind, while he ran my body. I had to watch with my own eyes as he fucked my wife. Went to my job. Wore my clothes. I had to watch as he got bored and killed my wife. My cats. I had to watch as he destroyed everything I loved. I hoped dearly someone would notice the change in my behavior, that I had become more violent or detached. That someone would report me, and Id be arrested and put on death row just to end it. And they did but would always brush it off. Deep down they knew, I had a good heart. They knew I would never hurt anyone. My wife had left me and left town, leaving me down they said. It had changed me. I just needed privacy and time to mourn. Over the years I have lost track of the victims he has dispatched to the afterlife. 100. 200. 500. I couldn’t tell anymore. I did my best to hide in that dark corner he had forced me into, in my own mind. But no matter what, he would remind me. Every Single Day. He would look in the mirror, before going out on the prowl. He would laugh, a wild look in his eyes. “I told you I would find you.” He would say. Then he would open the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. Remove the false backing. Remove his skin bound book and utensils. All with my body. Me. “The Chosen One.” My nightmare never ending.

1.7k

Part 1

Part 2


This is the common thread.

This is where I catch the virus.

I felt the strength drain from my arms. My vision swam and rippled. I wavered, nearly fainting right there on the couch.

Dr. Rosenfield pressed a cold stethoscope to my chest. “Now, take a few deep breaths in…”

It’s over. The voice pounded in my head, deafening everything else. It’s over, it’s over, it’s over…

“Your vitals look good,” she said. She sat down in the desk chair, looking over a file. “Now, tell me why you’re here today.”

Maybe it was the finality of it all – the fact that I knew it was over. Or maybe it was just how nervous I was. But as soon as I opened my mouth, it all spilled out. I told her about the app, the virus, the sleepless nights. Everything.

When I had finished, she gave me a warm, comforting smile. “It sounds like you have a bit of anxiety, Alexis. Nothing to worry about – very common for your age. I’ll prescribe you something to help, okay?”

I nodded, and put my sweater back on.

“I’ll send your prescription over to the pharmacy on 12th. Sound good?”

“Yeah. Thanks.”

The entire way back, I didn’t speak a word to my so-called friends.


When I got back to the apartment, I video-called Cameron.

“I figured out the common thread. It’s Dr. Rosenfield.”

His face fell. “Oh, no.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t think of it yesterday. Doctors have so much contact with illness. She’s probably infecting everybody she sees.” I scoffed, and looked down at the floor. “And we’re just the ones lucky enough to die from it.”

He nodded.

“There’s so much I wanted to do.” The tears crept back into my eyes; I looked away. Should I say it? At this point, I have nothing to lose, right? “I wanted to get to know you. I thought… we had something. And I know that sounds stupid, since I’ve only talked to you like once, but you seem – well, amazing.”

He was silent.

“Do you think we have a chance? To stop this?”

His eyes grew dark.

And then he slowly shook his head.

“No.”

The frames jumped. His face became pixelated, distorted, as if there was a bad connection.

“Cameron?”

Through the blocky pieces of pixels, a wide smile formed on his face.

No –

“There is no way to stop us,” it said, in a chorus of voices coming from every device in the room.

Snap.

I closed the laptop, threw my head into the pillow, and began to sob.


“The funny thing is, I still don’t feel sick.”

I sat on a park bench, overlooking the river. Cameron sat on the next one over, several feet away. The yellow rays of the sinking sun glinted off the river, cut by the wakes of a few ducks.

“Are you scared?”

“No, actually.” And then I laughed. “Although, that might be more due to the pills I just took than my state of mind.”

He smiled. “Well, whatever it takes.”

No, I didn’t tell Cameron about the video call last night – or my budding feelings. I decided to keep it simple; just enjoy my final moments in the company of someone who understood. I had already done everything I needed to – called my parents (they are fine, by the way, thanks for your concern), prayed a whole lot, read a book, and ate the best cheeseburger I ever had.

Now it was just time to wait.

“Did you finish How I Met Your Mother last night?” Cameron asked, turning towards me.

I laughed. “No. Still on Season 8.”

“So you didn’t meet the mother!”

I smiled at him. “And I guess I never will.”

And that’s when I felt it.

The sudden pang of dizziness. The hitch in my breathing. The world spinning around me, growing darker with every second.

“Alexis!”

But he sounded so, so far away.


“Alexis?”

I opened my eyes.

White walls. Tubing, wires, equipment. Murmured voices, clacking shoes, faint beeps.

I was in the hospital.

I turned. There sat Cameron, leaning over the bed.

“What happened?” I groaned.

“Something wonderful,” he said, breaking into a smile. “As we were there on the riverside… I got the craziest idea. To switch the SIM cards in our phones. Had about a ninety percent chance of killing both of us, and a ten percent chance of confusing the system and resetting everything.”

“But the virus –”

“You were dying from the pills, Alexis. Not a virus.” The smile faded from his face. “You took more than double the amount you should have.”

And then he stood up. “Were you trying to kill yourself? To defy the prediction?” His voice cracked, and his eyes locked with mine. “Because – I risked everything to save you. And –”

“What? No! I took three pills. Exactly what Dr. Rosenfield prescribed.”

“Then she made a mistake. Or –” Cameron lowered his voice. “Wait. Do you think she purposely gave you the wrong prescription?”

“Why would she do that?”

“Maybe she’s working with them.”

Cameron shot up, and darted into the hallway. Ten minutes later, he was back, with a wide-eyed Dr. Rosenfield trailing behind him.

“Why did you do it?” Cameron asked. He loomed over her, taller by more than a foot; she took a step back.

“What are you talking about?”

“Yesterday, you prescribed Alexis some anti-anxiety meds. It was the wrong dosage. And it almost killed her.” He took a deliberate step forward. “Are you working with them? You are, aren’t you?”

“With whom?”

“Look, we’re not trying to accuse you of anything,” I said, shooting a glare at Cameron. “But – why did you give me the wrong dosage?”

“Uh, let me pull up your file,” she said quietly, taking a seat at the computer. Her hands flew over the keyboard, and after a few minutes, she turned back to us.

She swallowed, her face pale.

“It looks like your file… accidentally got swapped with Cameron’s. I gave you the dosage – not for a 110-pound woman, but for a 250-pound man.” She said it with a mix of guilt and terror in her eyes, as though she were confessing to a murder.

Well, I guess she kind of was.

“How?” Cameron asked. “How did the files get switched?”

“A lot of our patients’ files got corrupted and mixed up,” she said, laying her glasses on the table with a muffled clink. “Because yesterday – our computers got a virus.”

And before I could respond, motion caught my eye –

A dark shadow, flitting across the computer screen.

78

I was half way across the mall and moving almost parallel to the man I intended to kill. He was tall and kind of lopsided, walking with a pronounced limp, and there was something almost bird-like about the way he twitched his head from side to side, looking for signs of someone following him.

I wasn’t worried. I knew he couldn’t see me. There was no physical sign I was even there. I cast no reflection. No shadow. I was the ultimate stealth predator. And the thought made me feel untouchable. Almost God-like.

He’d never see me coming.

I felt good about what I was doing. I felt polished. It wasn’t personal, I don’t want you to think it was personal. I didn’t know this guy, I just had that feeling you get when you do one thing and you do it well.

I followed him into a menswear shop and I watched him select a few items of clothing from the racks and take them to try on in the changing rooms at the back of the store.

I struck in the changing cubicle.
I stood behind him as he unbuttoned his shirt. The cubicle was surrounded by mirrors but I wasn’t reflected in any of them. As far as the man was concerned, he was alone.

As he peeled his shirt off I drew my arm back and punching my fist through the middle of his broad bare back, I wrapped my fingers around his warm, beating heart and held it for an exquisite moment.

The man gasped as though he’d been doused in a sudden downpour of ice cold water. He stared into the nearest mirror, his mouth gaping, his eyes bulging from their respective sockets.
‘Uuurghhh….’ He gasped.
I squeezed his heart between my fingers. It was like squeezing a small feral animal. It squirmed and pulsed and struggled between my fingers and the man let out a gurgling half shriek as blood shot out of his mouth.

I kept squeezing and slowly he sank to his knees, still gasping, still bleeding, and then he gave a huge shudder and pitched forward against the mirror.

I withdrew my hand from his chest cavity and straightened up.
I stared into the mirror.
There was no trace of me in the cubicle, not even the tiniest hint of a reflection.
I smiled, closed my eyes and instantly I experienced this sensation of falling from a great height.


I woke up in my bedroom, gasping and shaking with revulsion. My hand…I could still feel that guy’s heart squirming between my fingers. It felt horrific and all I wanted to do was wash the memory off it so I jumped up and ran to the bathroom and obsessively scrubbed my hands with soap and water.

I was breathing hard.

I hated those dreams. I hated the person I became in them. Ruthless. Predatory. I hated the fact I knew they were more than mere dreams.


It was late last year when I started spontaneously passing out. It didn’t matter when it was, night or day, I’d just black out in the middle of whatever I was doing at the time, and that was that, I’d be out cold for minutes or sometimes hours at a stretch.

The doctors suggested I might have narcolepsy. Apparently, my ability to regulate my sleep-wake cycles was severely impaired. They told me that’s why I kept falling asleep.

At first, I reckoned it would pass, like the flu passes if you drink enough hot chicken soup. I was put on medical amphetamines or something, and I think I was prescribed a course of Armodafinil, not sure, everything was a bit crazy back then, my life had huge pockets of no-memory, like the perforated vein of a junkie, and this went on for months and months.

I lost my driving license. I lost my job and any chance of getting a new one. So long as I had this sleep disorder I was pretty much un-hireable.

But that’s not the weirdest part of this whole affair. What freaked me out even more than the blackouts were the dreams I’d have whilst I was passed out. They weren’t really dreams at all, they were too linear, way too organised - dreams are usually crazy and all over the place, with no real logic attached to them, but the things I was experiencing were methodical, deliberate, you could feel every moment passing, every tic of the clock - just like in the real world.

They were more like glimpses into an alternate reality than actual dreams.

In every one of them I was stalking this man along unfamiliar streets. He was a total stranger but I remember following him the way a wolf trails its prey, and I couldn’t figure out why I was following him, it was an irresistible compulsion, watching his every move, learning what I could about him, and even though I knew I was dreaming, I was somehow aware this was so much more than a dream.

I’d follow the man into exclusive restaurants and stand watching him eat. No one seemed to notice me when I was in those restaurants, not customers or staff. I was invisible to them.

Other times I’d follow the guy through shopping precincts, making a note of what stores he went into, what he bought, who he spoke to, or else I’d creep onto the subway after him and sit watching him from several seats over.

These dreams went on for several weeks, it got so I knew this guy better than I knew my own reflection, but that’s the crazy thing about it, I’d never laid eyes on him in the waking world.

I told my friends about it but you know how that goes, everyone’s doing their own thing, no one has time for your shit, except Bud, he asked me how the trip to the institute went, and of course I don’t know what he’s talking about. What trip? What institute?

He shrugged and made out it was no big thing. ‘You kept going on about some volunteer program over at this institute no one had ever heard about,’ he said with a shrug, ‘dunno, man, it was supposed to be good money or something.’
I shook my head. ‘how long ago was this?’
‘About five, maybe six weeks.'
That’s how long I’d been having the blackouts.
Bud stared at me. ‘I take it you didn’t wind up going then.’
I frowned. ‘Going where?’
‘To the institute?’
‘I think I would have remembered if I did,’ I snapped.
I took a deep breath after that. I needed a drink. ‘Did you….’ I swallowed, ‘did I happen to mention the name of this institute?’
Bud shook his head. ‘Not to me you didn’t,’ he said.


The dreams came to a head three days later.
I dreamed I was following that man again, along a dark, cobbled street, through large crystal doors, and across the lobby of a five-star hotel. I had time to note he was heavy set, in his mid-fifties, with black hair turning grey, a slight stiffening of his right knee whenever he put weight on it, old injury, probably only hurt when it snowed.

He entered an elevator and I slipped in behind him.
I knew he couldn’t see me.
The elevator was surrounded by mirrors but I had no physical body to reflect. I was invisible. But I was aware. I could see. I could think. It didn’t make any sense.

Why was I following him?
Who was I?

He stepped out on the tenth floor and I stepped out after him, down a long red passage lined with identical doors, and as I trailed him my purpose became diamond clear – I was here to kill him. I felt bound to that action. I felt like it was the most natural thing in the world.
I moved up behind the guy, slipped my hands around his neck, and squeezed hard as I could. Instantly he started thrashing about like a mad man, but I was possessed of supernatural strength. I wasn’t physical, I wasn’t even tangible, and yet I could crush his larynx as easy as crushing a paper cup, and even though it was a dream I felt the sensation of his throat giving way beneath my fingers.

He was panicking, trying to cry out, his arms lashing out and his feet desperately kicking backwards, like he was trying to strike me in the shins, but he was helpless against me, I heard the bones pop in his neck, his spine crumble, and after a few belated spasms, he went limp. After that I let him go and watched him collapse to the hotel carpet, like he was boneless.
It was the most satisfying sensation in the world.
I woke up from that dream, horrified and elated, I woke up with my fingers tingling, like I could still feel that guy’s neck between them. I woke up with a hard-on.


The black-outs stopped for a while afterwards, but the nightmare continued.
The day after that dream I saw the guy’s face in the paper. I stared at his photo for about five minutes before I gathered the courage to read the accompanying article. His name was Casper Van Boyd. He was a well-known art dealer. And yesterday someone had attacked and murdered him in a hotel corridor. I felt sick to the stomach. I felt like I was going crazy. There was a photo of the hotel passage with Police Caution tape crisscrossing it. The passage was identical to the one in my dreams. Red walls, white carpets, identical rows of doors. God help me, what the fuck was going on?

I locked myself in my apartment and refused to answer the phone. I was terrified, trying to convince myself that I’d had some kind of precognitive dream or vision or whatever the hell it was, trying to convince myself that I’d had no hand in that man’s death.
It was a hard sell.
I could still feel the sensation of his neck breaking between my fingers.
Meanwhile I was going through all my paperwork, my emails, out-of-date newspapers, browser history, looking for any clue to that institute Bud mentioned, but there was nothing, no information that I’d bothered to hang onto.
For days afterwards, I kept seeing that guy’s face in my head. It was scorched into my brain.


Two weeks passed without further incident, and I was just beginning to think the blackouts were behind me, that I could get back to a normal life, when the whole thing started again with a vengeance.
The first sign they had returned was when I fell asleep right in the middle of a job interview. I was only asleep for five minutes or so but it left the wrong impression on the interviewer and needless to say, I didn’t get the job.
Over the next week-and-a-half the blackouts came thick and fast. I barely left the house. I was too scared I’d pass out on the street or crossing the road. My neighbour, Shirly, brought home some groceries for me, and sometimes we’d hang out together. I’d told her all about my narcolepsy and she was worried about me. She said if I needed anything I should give her a call.

Once again, the blackouts were accompanied by vivid dreams. I was stalking another man. The same routine as before only this time the guy was much older. He was balding and quite a bit overweight, constantly on the move, meeting people, attending functions. He seemed to be quite popular in the community. I even followed him into a radio station at one point and watched him give an hour-long interview.

From my dream observations, I learned his name was Eddie Bono, a Chicago politician standing on an anti-corruption platform. He wasn’t afraid to call out the big boys. If he was elected mayor he was threatening to come down hard on something he called “the construction mafia”, and I figured, with that kind of approach, the man had probably made a few enemies in his time.

I looked him up between blackouts. He was a real person. He had a Wikipedia page, a website, the works. He was running for mayor of Chicago and a lot of pundits put him way ahead of the city’s incumbent mayor.

Jesus – was he going to wind up dead like that other guy?

I was helpless – I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t call the guy and warn him. I’d sound like a nut. I couldn’t call the cops. They’d ignore me. But the moment this dude wound up dead I’d become their primary suspect. There was nothing I could do but hope this dream didn’t go the way the other one had.


I was a different person in those dreams. I was single-minded in the pursuit of my quarry. I’d study everything about him, looking for weaknesses, judging his strengths – and all the time I studied him I felt this growing hunger, this ineluctable excitement….

Then one day I dreamed I’d followed Eddie into an office washroom. The energy was subtly different, I felt like I had been given some kind of cosmic go-ahead – I don’t know how I knew this, but I was aware some higher power had given me the green light to do whatever had to be done.

After Eddie had used the urinal he stood for a while, staring into the mirror as he washed his hands. Even though I stood right behind him I cast no reflection. As far as Eddie was concerned he was alone in the washroom.
I slipped my hand over his nose and mouth, pinching his nostrils tight, sealing his lips, cutting off his air supply. He instantly panicked. He went bug-eyed and grabbed at his face, making these “Huck! Huck!” sounds as he tried to breathe. He had no idea what was going on. In the beginning he didn’t even realise he was being attacked. There was no one behind him. He must have thought he was having a seizure, but as he flailed and struggled he realised he was being held tight, that he was being suffocated to death.
That’s when the real struggle began.
Eddie fought much harder than the last guy did. He twisted and lashed out and raised his legs, kicking them against the washstand mirrors, shattering them as he tried to get away from me. But I was like a force of nature, I was pure energy. The harder he fought the harder I held him, until he started convulsing and his eyes began to glaze over, and even then, he was still struggling.
But in the end, Eddie succumbed and died, right there on the wash room floor.


I woke up screaming for breath, as though I’d been the one who couldn’t breathe.
I stumbled across my apartment and threw up in the toilet. Oh Christ, that fucking dream had been so real.
I threw up again, and again….
He was dead! He was fucking dead. In my heart I knew Eddie Bono was dead.


It was all over the evening news.
Eddie Bono had been found dead in a public restroom. Police were not ruling out homicide.
I was physically shaking as I listened to the news. My teeth were clicking together and my hands trembled like I had some old dude’s disease. They weren’t giving away the details of how Eddie had died, but just mention of a public restroom confirmed all my worst fucking fears.
I’d killed in my dreams. Not once, but twice.
What in God’s name was happening to me?

550

It was only when I was cleaning out some old boxes I had shuffled from house to house that I found this tape. When I saw the writing scrawled on the side in Sharpie, it all came flooding back. All the guilt that I'd hidden for all these years oozed out. I felt a heaviness in my heart that I did so well to hide from myself.

I made a promise with them not to tell anyone what happened. I will honour that promise and keep their anonymity. However, I need to share this. They say a burden shared is a burden halved. It will take a lot more than that to wash myself of the guilt, but it's a start.

The following is a transcript I have written from said tape. The names have been changed to protect both parties.


Dr Parker: Today is Wednesday, 4th February 1987. How are you today, Sally?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: That's okay. You don't need to talk if you don't want to. <long pause> Do you know why you're here?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: Your mummy and daddy wanted us to have a little chat; about the things you have been saying and doing, <long pause> and your behaviour at school?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: Do you like school, Sally? <long pause> Your mummy says you don't want to go anymore. I understand that <small chuckle>, I never liked school either. I always wanted to play with my toys. I didn't have many friends, do you have any friends?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: When the children ignored me, I wanted to hit them, so they'd know how I felt. Do you ever want to hit anyone, Sally?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: Fire is interesting, isn't it. It's very colourful and fun to look at. Is that why you started them?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: <deep sigh> Say, would you like to draw anything, Sally? <sound gets fainter> Here, I'll show you. You can use any of these crayons and draw whatever you like. I'm going to get a drink. Would you like a lemonade or any ice cream? <pause> Great, a nod is good, ice cream? <pause> Brilliant. I'll go get you some, I won't be long.

<sound of a door closing>

Sally: Shhh, I don't want to speak to you, I don't know you. <pause> Go away, I'm not allowed to play with bigger boys. <long pause> Put down the crayons, you'll get me into trouble. Stop it! STOP IT!

<sound of door opening>

Dr Parker: Is everything okay, Sally? I heard you shouting.

Sally: Sorry.

Dr Parker: You have nothing to be sorry about. Here's your ice cream. <pause> Oh you've drawn me a picture. What is it?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: That looks like a grown up. Dark hair, blue shirt is it? Are those trousers or jeans? Who's the little guy holding his hand? You're a little artist aren't you.

Sally: <upset> I didn't draw it.

Dr Parker: Was it one of your friends in your head? Your mummy told me about them. It's okay, you can tell me anything. <pause> Not one of them?

Sally: <quiet> no.

Dr Parker: Who did it? I don't see anyone else here. <heartwarming chuckle>.

Sally: <quiet> Ben.

Dr Parker: I used to know a Ben. It's a nice name isn't it?

Sally: Yes

Dr Parker: Tell you what, why don't you eat your ice cream and I'll talk some more, and if you want to tell me anything, you can. <pause> I'll take that as a yes.

Dr Parker: Your mummy tells me you don't like the children in your school. Are they mean to you? <pause> They are? That's not nice. What do they do, do they hurt you?

Sally: No.

Dr Parker: Do they say nasty things about you?

Sally: Yeah, really nasty.

Dr Parker: That's nice ice cream, isn't it? I can get you more if you like. <pause> What did they say to you?

Sally: I scare them.

Dr Parker: You scare them? How do you scare them?

Sally: I know what's in them.

Dr Parker: What's in them? I'm not sure I understand.

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: You make up things about them?

Sally: <upset and loud>NO. I know what they say and then they cry.

Dr Parker: Your mummy says you say bad things to them.

Sally: <upset> Only when they do it first!

Dr Parker: She says you shouted at your brother when he hasn't said anything.

Sally: <upset> He was going to say horrible things, but hadn't yet.

Dr Parker: Is it like you can hear their voice, but not out loud?

Sally: Uh huh.

Dr Parker: Is that why they're scared of you?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: You're a good girl, you've finished all your ice cream. Would you like me to get you that lemonade? <pause> Good. I won't be gone long. Why don't you draw something else.

<sound of door opening and closing>

Sally: I don't like you. You got me into trouble. Go away. <pause> You tell him. I'm not talking to you anymore.

<sound of door opening>

Dr Parker: Here's your lemonade. Oh good, you're drawing again. <long pause> Do you know why you started the fire?

Sally: I didn't do it, I told mummy that, but she didn't believe me.

Dr Parker: Can you tell me what happened?

Sally: Mr Brown did it.

Dr Parker: Is Mr Brown your teacher?

Sally: He said he wanted to do bad things to me.

Dr Parker: Can you tell me what?

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: Your mummy tells me that you shouted at him. Did you do that?

Sally: Yes. He said he wanted to hurt me.

Dr Parker: Did you hear that before he said it too?

Sally: Yes. He said he was going to burn my bag, that would learn me. What does learn me mean?

Dr Parker: Did you tell your mummy that?

Sally: She says I tell lies.

Dr Parker: I don't think you're a liar.

Sally: <no response>

Dr Parker: Is that why you punctured his tyres?

Sally: He wanted to do bad things to me.

Dr Parker: You wanted to punish him?

Sally: He's mean. He says horrible things about everyone.

Dr Parker: What else does he say?

Sally: He says mummy is a slug.

Dr Parker: A slug, or a slut?

Sally: That's what I said.

Dr Parker: Did he say that out loud?

Sally: No.

Dr Parker: What else did he say?

Sally: I'd look good in a body bag. I don't like bags. I never won a sack race, I always fall over. They itch and scratch.

Dr Parker: Have you told your mummy this?

Sally: No, she slapped me. She says she wishes I was never born. Daddy says he wanted a boy.

Dr Parker: <no response>

Sally: Why does Ben say he's cold?

Dr Parker: Ben?

Sally: He says you put him in the hole and he's really cold. Can you get him a jacket or something? That always warms me up.

Dr Parker: I don't know a Ben.

Sally: <giggles> Yes you do, he says you're his daddy. I hate being cold. <small pause> Can I have some more ice cream? I really liked the last one.

Dr Parker: Uh, I'm not sure.

Sally: Why are you worried someone will find him? He's scared and he wants to see you. He drew you this picture.

Dr Parker: You drew that.

Sally: No, he said it was for you. He misses you.

Dr Parker: You know what, I am going to see him right after I've finished with you. Can I ask you a little favour?

Sally: Yes.

Dr Parker: I'll tell your mummy what a great girl you are. I can make the voices stop if you don't tell her about Ben? Do we have a deal?

Sally: Yes.

Dr Parker: Do you promise?

Sally: I promise.


I don't know why I stole the tape. I hid it from my mother and myself for years.

Today, when listening to it, and being older, I now understood why Ben was cold. I've stopped taking my tablets. I'm now hearing many voices crying out for help, but I'm waiting for Ben's. I owe him that.

xx

59

Part 1

The years hadn’t been kind to George. His hair was more grey than brown now, and it looked like he’d slept in the clothes he was wearing. He had at least a weeks worth of stubble on his prematurely wrinkled face. He sat at a table in the corner of the cafe, hunched over a black coffee, his bloodshot eyes not registering me until I was almost on top of him.

“George, it’s been a long time” I said, offering my hand.

He reeked of booze.

“Liam, you still look the same!” George laughed, but there was no joy in the sound.

We made small talk and traded a few stories about what we’d both been doing for the past few years. Finally, George stood up suddenly.

“Let’s go somewhere else, Liam, I don’t like the way she’s looking at me” He said, gesturing to a young waitress who I’d barely seen look in our direction at all.

“Uh, yeah alright…do you wanna go to the other cafe down the road? I offered.

“No, let’s go to the park on Essex Street.” He said, already making his way to the door.

I followed and we walked at a brisk pace towards the park which was a fairly short distance away.

George pulled a flask from his jacket pocket and took a swig before offering it to me.

“I’m alright, mate. It’s 9:30am.” I laughed, but my laugh had no joy either. Liam was making me feel pretty uncomfortable and I felt like things were going to get worse before they got better.

We arrived at the park which was empty except for a couple of mums and their toddlers at the small playground. They were getting ready to leave as the weather was not far away from turning nasty. Dark storm clouds were coming from the west and I could see sheeting rain in the distance.

We took a seat at the opposite corner of the park and George was quiet for a minute. When he finally spoke there was an edge to his voice that wasn’t there before.

“I guess you know what I want to talk about” he said

“Well, we don’t really have much history since that afternoon in the tunnel, so I’m guessing it’s that?” I replied, tentatively.

“Yeah. That day fucked me up, Liam. You really just left me to fuckin’ die, didn’t you.” He spat.

The words hung in the air. They stung. It was a hard situation for me too, that day. What could I have done, a skinny thirteen-year-old?

“Mate, I did what I thought was the right thing at the time. I ran as fast as I could and got my Dad. I genuinely thought that was the best thing to do…I’m sorry” I replied, and I meant it. I was sorry.

George softened a little. “I know. I’ve held onto so much anger from that day, but I know you only did what you thought was the best thing. I just wish…” He trailed off and I could see tears welling in his eyes.

“What the fuck happened in there, George?”

He leaned forward and put his face in his hands, breathing heavily. He stayed that way for a few minutes. I didn’t really know what to do. I considered putting my arm around his shoulders. I also considered getting up and walking away. I did neither of those things and eventually he sat upright again and spoke.

“You know the homeless guy they found dead? He wasn’t dead, Liam. When I came to I was on my back and I was being dragged into the doorway…the fucking moths were everywhere. I couldn’t work out what was happening for a minute. Then I saw himit…this fucking thing…”

At this point George closed his eyes and with both hands started rapidly rubbing his thumbs against his forefingers, I’m guessing some kind of a nervous tick; a coping mechanism.

“…It was on its knees dragging me by the ankles. It was bloated, puffy. It was not human, not any more.”

I just stared ahead. My head was throbbing. I believed what he was saying.

“What about the scratches? You were covered in scratches when you came out. Was it the dogs?” I said, not even recognising my own voice as I spoke.

“No…the dogs were cowering. They were all in one corner bunched up together, whimpering.” He said.

“So he…it…” Now I trailed off. I didn’t want to know what happened next.

“It rose up and got bigger - it was the size of a dining room table. I couldn’t move, I knew I was going to lose consciousness again and honestly I tried to let that happen as it came down on top of me. It slowly engulfed me…it was cold like ice but it fucking stunk. I can still smell it sometimes, Liam. I wake up from a nightmare about it and I can fucking smell it, like it’s right in my fucking bed!” He said, his voice cracking. He took the flask out again and took two large gulps.

He was quiet for a minute.

“George, you don’t have to-“

“No!” He cut me off “I want to get this out. I’ve told a couple of other people over the years, y’know, people I trusted, people that I thought might understand and they all looked at me as if I’d lost the plot. They pitied me! That’s not what I fucking want.”

Now I was quiet for a minute, then I continued. “Okay, so it was on top of you? Fucking hell…

“Yeah.” He nodded slowly, turning towards me. “And this is the most fucked up bit…I could feel all my memories flooding out of me and into it…I thought it was my life flashing before my eyes, y’know how you hear about that? But that’s not what it was. It was too controlled. It was scrolling through my memories, and lingering on certain ones. It would take certain ones. Now when I try and remember those ones it’s like…it’s hollow. I can’t remember the way a certain experience felt, I can just see myself living through the experience in my memory like a ghost. All my best memories. Why would it fucking do that?” He said, shaking his head, a thin film of sweat forming on his brow despite the cool morning.

I didn’t have an answer for that, so I stayed silent.

“That’s the last thing I remember from the tunnel.” He continued, “The next thing I remember was being in your Dad’s arms.”

“Okay…What now?” I asked, meekly, already knowing what was coming.

“I’m going there now, Liam. I want to know if anything is there anymore. I am at the point where I just need to go and do this. You are the only person that understands and I would appreciate it more than you know if you’d come with me.” He said, looking me in the eye. He didn’t have to mention the way I’d left him to die again, his look said it all.

I just nodded.

George stood up and started walking in the direction of the tunnel. Again I found myself following him, lead by a sense of grim, guilt-fuelled obligation. Anxiety was quickly engulfing me as we got closer to our destination. Rain was falling heavily now.

Once we were down the embankment, it looked the same. The graffiti had been updated but besides that it genuinely hadn’t changed a bit.

George was worked up now. He was pacing in circles, his hair was wet and stuck to his forehead. He had tears in his eyes and he was looking more than a little bit unhinged.

“I’m not letting this control my life anymore! I’ve been scared too fucking long. It all ends now. Stay or go, Liam, I don’t care.” He shouted. “I thought I needed you here but fuck it, now I don’t care.”

He took the flask out again and drained what was left before letting it drop into the long grass at his feet. He cleared his throat, took a breath and walked into the tunnel, removing a pistol from inside his jacket as he crossed the threshold.

The last thing I wanted to do was follow him in there, especially with him on edge like that combined with all that darkness and a fucking pistol.

“George! What’s a gun going to do to this thing?” I shouted in desperation, but he wasn’t turning back, so I had no choice but to follow him…

32

I had been living just outside London in a shoebox apartment when I got a promotion that came with a sizeable pay increase. Immediately I started looking for a bigger place. Anyone who has ever lived in or around London (or indeed any large city) will know that rent prices are murder even if you have a well paying job, so house hunts can take a while. After several months of not finding anything I was about to give up when I came across the perfect house. It had two small bedrooms, a gorgeous little garden out the back, and best of all it was well within budget. I thought for sure I wouldn’t get it – places this nice for this price were always snapped up, but I applied anyway and was delighted when my application was accepted. I should’ve known that it was too good to be true. I should never have stepped foot in that house, but you know the old saying: hindsight is twenty-twenty.

Two weeks later I moved in. I’d been stung before by crook landlords who took my deposit for problems that were present before I moved in or that were totally bogus, so I had learned to document everything as soon as possible, starting with the property inventory. I photographed every crack or dent, every chip of paint or scuff in the floor.

I started with the kitchen, examining the walls and floors closely before moving onto the cupboards. I bent down to check the first one near the sink. There were a few scuffs on the cupboard door. I noted them down and took pictures. Then I opened the door and peered inside, brandishing my torch and camera.

Most people neglect to check the inside of the cabinets and drawers, but I knew better. The cupboard was huge, enough so that you’d have to lean right in to grab something at the back. I guessed it was meant to store pots, pans, or other bulky crockery items. I pushed further in, stretching to check the furthest corners for mould or water damage. As I inched further and further, my torso almost swallowed whole by the tight confines of the cupboard, I began to feel vulnerable. I couldn’t explain why. The front and back doors were locked, all the windows were shut tight, and I had never been claustrophobic, but still, some distant part of my brain was warning me.

Not wanting to spend more time than was necessary in here, I swept my tiny torch about me. That was when I saw the words scrawled at the very back of the cupboard in red:

DON’T LOOK UP.

I snapped a photo of it and quickly got out. Weird. Why would anyone write such a bizarre message at the back of a cupboard? What did it mean?

I had a lot to do so I didn’t give it much thought. Instead, I picked through the kitchen before working systematically through the rest of the house.

At this point I should mention that the house had two skylights – one at the top of the stairs and one directly above the bath. It was one of the many features I liked about the house. Both lay up a square shaft that cut through the ceiling all the way up to the roof and both were way too high for even the tallest person to reach without a ladder.

That evening, to celebrate my first night in my new house, I bought Chinese takeout and put on one of my favourite movies. The cloying sense of unease returned, but I brushed it off as new house nerves.

After dinner, I decided to take a hot bath before bed to relax. I grabbed a good book, lit some candles and poured in some bubble bath.

I had been blissfully soaking for about half an hour when I heard a noise. It was coming from the roof. I didn’t panic or even look up from my book because it wasn’t a worrying heavy thud or footsteps. It was more like something small was skittering about up there, so I figured a cat was running along the roof. God knows the neighbourhood was full of them.

Then, the noise stopped, replaced by tapping on the glass of the skylight. I tried to dismiss it as a bird, but the tapping seemed purposeful, insistent – like someone was trying to get my attention.

A chill worked through me, even the parts of me enveloped in steaming hot water. I got out of the bath, no longer able to relax. The tapping stopped as I secured a towel around my body and dashed into my bedroom to get dried and dressed. Then I went downstairs, put on another movie, and tried to calm down.

Even though I was exhausted, I was hesitant to go back upstairs. I kept popping in film after film. I must have dozed off because the next thing I remember was jolting suddenly awake.

The DVD I had been watching was looping the menu screen music.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I stiffened when I heard the sound. At first, I thought it was somebody at the door. I glanced at the clock. It was three in the morning. Who could it be at this hour?

Tap. Tap. Tap.

My brain was a little foggy, but I stood, trying to figure out what it was.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It sounded like somebody rapping on glass.

I grabbed my cell phone and slowly padded out of the living room and towards the hallway, turning on every light as I went, poised to dial the police. I made it into the kitchen which was at the front of the house. Nobody was tapping on the window. Then I crept to the front door which had a frosted glass panel so you could make out if a figure was on either side of the door. There was no silhouette or shape to indicate somebody was there.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Confused, I spun. It seemed to be coming from behind me, so I moved back and poked my head through the living room door to look at the French doors leading out to the garden.

Nobody was there either.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I realised then that the tapping was coming from upstairs.

I clicked the landing light on and made my way up the stairs.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

As I made it halfway up, I realised the tapping was coming from the skylight at the top of the stairs.

Odd. I thought most birds would be asleep this time of night. Still, I supposed, it could be an owl or a cat or something.

I made it to the top of the stairs. Directly above me was the skylight. Deep shadows formed at the top where the light couldn’t quite reach, leaving the glass hidden in a pocket of blackness. As I squinted, hoping to catch even the slightest glimpse of whatever was up there, I could hear something else, something besides the tapping. It was a muffled groaning.

I fiddled about with my phone, turning on torch mode. When I swung the light up to get a better look, I almost dropped it.

Pressed against the glass of the skylight was a face, a horrible, distorted grey face with dark empty eye sockets and a mouth pulled open wide – wider than naturally possible. I almost fell backwards down the stairs. Luckily I grabbed the banister to steady myself. I looked once again to the skylight, but the hideous face was gone. The tapping had also stopped.

What the hell just happened? Did I actually see that?

As my pulse gradually slowed, I told myself that it was just the shadows and the glare of the torchlight playing tricks on me. I couldn’t have seen anything. That face couldn’t have been real.

No matter how hard I tried to rationalise it to myself, I couldn’t bring myself to sleep upstairs.

Instead, I dug a blanket and a pillow out and slept on the sofa, keeping the lights and the TV on. I curled up on my side, did my best to get comfortable, and then closed my eyes.

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t drift off. I don’t know how long I lay there. It felt like forever. I was about to give up and go back to watching movies when a sound sent a shiver rattling down my spine.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I held my breath, waiting for it to come again. It did.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It was different from the ones before but I couldn’t quite place how.

Tap ... tap ... tap...

Then it hit me. The reason it sounded so different. It wasn’t on glass. Something was tapping the ceiling directly above me.

Then came the groaning. No longer muffled by the glass, I heard it clearly. And it was right above me.

Tap... tap... tap...

I was about to bolt out of bed and run away when I remembered the writing at the back of the cupboard. Don’t look up.

I froze in place and squeezed my eyes shut. I wanted to bury myself in the covers but I dared not move. The moaning got louder and I could feel it get closer and closer, all the while tapping on the ceiling.

My heart beat ramped up, so much so that the pulse pounding in my ears almost hurt. My palms grew clammy and it felt like I couldn’t draw in enough air.

The worst part was the moaning. I say ‘moaning’ but it wasn't, not exactly. That’s just as close as I can describe it. It wasn’t a sound any living natural thing could make, and it was something that I heard as well as felt deep within my own body.

Though I wasn’t looking, I knew the thing was getting closer and closer. I had to fight not to scream when I felt its breath against the side of my face. It wasn’t warm breath; it was cold, like the first frost of winter.

I was sure that at any moment that horrific mouth would rip my face apart, that this would be the end for me, but I just couldn’t move.

Time lost all meaning as I lay there, eyes squeezed shut until they hurt. Still I wouldn’t open them, wouldn’t look at the thing.

Everything went silent.

I lay where I was, my body trembling uncontrollably, too terrified to so much as sneeze. When daylight broke through the curtains, I still didn’t get up. It was only when my phone went off that I dared to finally look.

Nothing was there.

I packed up everything I could in my car and made a break for it. I had no intention of ever coming back.

I drove for hours until I made it to my parent’s house. They were shocked and somewhat confused, but they could see I was shaken and so they let me stay with minimal questions. My dad helped me unpack the car and offered to go to the house and pick up the rest of my stuff, but I practically screamed ‘No!’. Nobody could go back there.

After a while, I began to calm down. My mother made me something to eat. I could tell my parents wanted to ask what happened, but they didn’t.

That evening, after dinner, I left to drive up to the local supermarket to pick some stuff up. Most of my toiletries, including my toothbrush, were back at the house, so I needed to replenish them. Before I pulled out of my parent’s drive, I sat at the wheel for a few minutes before starting the engine.

I was still a little jumpy from my ordeal, but, I reasoned, it was all behind me. I had escaped. I was safe.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

I froze, the breath catching in my chest.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

It felt like my body had been filled with ice water as I realised that the tapping was coming from the sunroof.

34

Part 1

A howl that chilled my guts and stopped my heart rang throughout the night. It faded from our hearing, but it seemed to resonate among the trees and hills of the lake. A dark cloud crossed the moon, plunging the area in near total darkness.

“Fuck, it’s dark,” I whispered.

“No shit. Back to the house,” said Robb. We turned back to the lake house. It wasn’t far, a dozen yards or so, but as we broke into a run the lights inside the house flickered off. A growl, low, menacing, full of the promise of death, rippled out of the night.

We stopped in our tracks.

“Is it between us and the house?” I whispered.

There was a sound of rustling and movement, of the padding of canid paws on the ground. Each step thumped with menacing power, sounding like a brief rumbling of thunder.

“Yes, it fucking is.”

Whatever it was paced back and forth, then yipped and barked.

“Is that a coyote?” I whispered. We crept forward, me holding the paddle at the ready. Robb noticed me.

“What’re you gonna do? Spank it?”

“Fuck you man, punch the coyote if you want.”

It materialized out of the dark. The coyote was the size of a medium dog, with reddish/orange hair. It paced and snarled, watching us. Its tongue slithered around its teeth and its hackles were up.

I swung the oar at the animal just as it got into reaching distance. The flat blade of the paddle cut through the air and smashed into the coyote’s face. The paddle snapped and the beast was thrown to the side. It whined and whimpered, and disappeared into the woods with yips and cries. There was another blood-freezing howl and then wind shifted.

The stench of rotten flesh filled our noses and Robb and me started to cough.

“Holy shit, what’s that smell?” said Robb.

“God. There’s got to be a pile of something dead and rotting in the woods. A deer?”

“Forget it,” said Robb. “Let’s get inside.”

We ran the last few yards to the lake house. Just before we were able to get in Robb through his arm across me and stopped me short.

“What?”

“Look,” he said, pointing. I followed his point and saw that same dark shape on the roof of the house. It was humanoid, black and shadowy, with burning red glowing eyes.

“The fuck is that?” I said.

“It’s him,” said Robb. The shadow leaped down in front of us, landing on all fours. It was Joe, but a horrible, twisted version of him. He looked up at me from his hunched form, squatting down. His canines were pronounced, long and wicked looking. The muscles of his forearms and shoulders bulged, straining against his skin. Veins popped out, looking like earthworms just below the surface.

He was covered in a foul-smelling, ragged waste of an animal. It looked like he’d messily skinned a large dog of some kind. The skin was rotten, black in places, with the hair falling out. The dog’s or whatever it was head was strapped to the top of his head. Fetid puss and fluid oozed out of the mouth, its tongue lolling lazily.

“Boys,” he growled. His voice was dark, husky. Other than the animal skin, he was nude. His legs were thick and muscular, his toenails, turned into heavy claws.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck. Oh, fuck,” said Robb.

“H-hey, Joe,” I managed. I started to speak but Joe leapt from where he was crouched and smashed into Robb’s midsection, knocking him down. I still had the handle of the oar and started hitting Joe as hard as I could, but it was like striking a rock. It didn’t even seem to register with him. Robb is a big guy but Joe was on him and fighting like an animal.

He bit and clawed at Robb, who shouted in pain and drove his fist into Joe’s stomach. Joe grunted but continued his assault, biting at Robb’s neck.

I threw the oar handle aside and tried to get into the brawl. The two men were rolling around on the ground, Robb trying to leverage his greater height and brawn against the wild and fluid attacks of Joe. A cut was open on Robb’s face and blood streamed from it. I could see angry red welts rising up on Joe’s face, so I knew that Robb was giving as good as he got. I jumped on top of Joe when they rolled closer to me and I wrapped my arms around his neck.

To my horror, Joe doubled himself up and buried his feet in Robb’s stomach, knocking the wind out of Robb and leaving him on the ground clutching his midsection. Joe thrust his head back and connected with my nose. I heard more than felt the sickening crunch of my own nose breaking, and the sudden tearing and burning of the crumbling cartilage and bone. Hot blood spurted from my face and I fell back.

Joe tore himself out of my arms, his eyes glowing bright red. His lips were pulled back in a savage snarl that was as much human as it was wolf.

Robb had managed to get onto his hands and knees and brought up a large rock, about the size of a football, and slammed it against the back of Joe’s head. Joe fell to the ground, lifeless.

I struggled to my feet, my hands cupped over my face as blood still poured from my nose.

“Holy. Fucking. Shit,” said Robb.

“Help me with my nose, dammit,” I said.

“What do we do about Joe?” said Robb.

“Fuckin’ bash his skull in!” I said.

“Kill our friend?”

“He’s trying to kill us!

“No way, man. We ain’t that.”

My mind raced.

“There’s rope tied around the dock. Go grab it and we’ll tie him up. Hurry, my fuckin’ face is coming apart!”

The blood from my nose slowed and stopped while we tied Joe’s hands and feet together. He barely moved, and blood oozed from a cut in his scalp.

When we thought we had him secure, we carried him inside and set him on the couch.

“Let’s get your nose taken care of,” said Robb.

We went into the bathroom and spent the better part of fifteen minutes yelling at each other and cursing as we tried to clean my face and stop the bleeding.

Just as we were done, a voice called from the living room:

“Robb? It’s Bekah. Where are you?”

“Bekah?!” said Robb.

“How did she get here so fast?” I said.

“What?”

“She would have had to have left an hour ago to get here now. Why would she leave the house this early?”

Robb’s face contorted with horror.

“But...it sounds just like her.”

“Slowly, man. Let’s look.” We crept around the bathroom door and down the hall to the living area. We looked around a corner. Bekah, Robb’s girlfriend of many years, was nowhere to be seen.

Joe was sitting upright on the couch. I couldn’t see the ropes we’d tied around him, but they were on his arms and legs, so I had no way of knowing if he’d freed himself.

“Robb? Joe called and said you were in trouble. Where are you, Robb?”

The voice was coming from Joe. It was a perfect imitation.

I could feel my friend shuddering behind me.

We backed up.

“This is so fucked,” said Robb.

“What are we gonna do?” I whispered.

“Do you suppose we could talk him down?” Robb said.

“Down from red glowing fucking eyes and ape arms?”

“I don’t know man!”

Another, different voice called from the living room.

“Jeff. Je-eff. I got a call that said you were hurt. Let me help you, honey.”

The voice of my own mother was calling to me from the living room. A shuddering, terrific horror wriggled through my guts and choked me.

“What about that skin that was on him?” said Robb. The image of the dog’s head stuck on top of Joe’s flashed in front of my eyes. It jolted me out of the creeping dread of hearing my mother call to me, though I know she wasn’t there.

“What about it?”

“If we get it off of him, will he go back to normal?”

“Do you want to try and strip that maniac?” I asked.

“It’s something to try, unless you wanna sit here and listen to him go through a list of people we know and love until we go nuts or he gets fuckin’ free!”

I listened to my mom calling to me from the living room. Then, Bekah’s voice rang out again.

“Robby, we’re all alone. Wanna have some fun?” she called, her voice thick with seduction.

“Fuck it. Let’s get that skin off of him,” I said.

We each took a deep breath and eased around the corner of the hallway, peering into the living room. Joe was still on the couch, but his shoulders were hunched up and way back, working back and forth, back and forth. The rope around his wrists was creaking, and the couch was shuffling a little on the hardwood floor.

The animal head and pelt were still on him.

“Game plan,” said Robb.

“Throw his ass on the floor, you sit on him, I’ll yank the skin.”

“Good plan,” said Robb.

We moved together, as if we’d done this a thousand times. Robb pushed Joe from behind the couch, throwing him to the floor, and jumped on him. Joe snarled and hissed, the deadly threat escalating to a full mountain lion scream that made us cover our ears. Joe had sprouted a fine coat of fur all over his body, wherever the pelt wasn’t covering him already.

Robb got back on him, straddling the middle of Joe’s back. The ropes around his wrists were almost loose, but I managed to get my hands on them and tighten them back down. Robb’s face turned red and sweat was pouring off of him.

“You better get that skin off him fast. I don’t know how long I’ma be able to hold him.”

I knelt behind them and grabbed the legs of the pelt, where they ran down the back of Joe’s legs. I tried to get my fingers under it, but they kept skipping over, like trying to pick up a coin underneath a thin blanket. I used both hands to try and separate pelt from human skin but they were attached.

“Dude, this skin is attached to him.”

“What?”

“This skin is ATTACHED TO HIM!”

Robb grunted as Joe tried to buck him off. Robb turned to look at me, his eyes wild and intense.

“Get a knife,” he said. “Skin the fucker.”

I ran to the kitchen and started going through the drawers. I finally came up with a kitchen knife. I tested the blade with my thumb, and figured it would have to do. I ran back into the living room where Robb had thrown himself totally on top of the yowling, screaming, snarling creature that had once been our friend.

I got on my knees at Joe’s feet, grabbed his ankle, and slid the knife along the skin of the animal pelt. Joe tried to yank his foot away, but I scrambled around and wrapped it tightly in my arm. I had to cut towards myself, but it was a better grip. I slid the blade up the skin, cutting it free of his human flesh. Blood welled out of the deep cut and Joe screamed again, all animal this time.

I worked the blade along the flesh and fur and got enough of it loose to grab ahold. I put both hands on the flap of animal pelt and yanked towards me as hard as I could. The flesh tore and blood splattered on the floor. Joe wailed again and tried to wriggle free, but even with the insane strength he’d shown before, he couldn’t get out from under us.

I continued the grisly work, skinning the pelt from his body off of both legs and up to his waist. It was getting harder. I was tired, hungover, hot, and covered in blood. The knife was dulling and getting slick in my hands. It seemed to want to turn in my hands and try to cut me myself.

“Stand on his wrists,” I said. I knelt on him, my knees on his thighs, my hands holding his hips.

Robb managed to get up and stand as I said.

“Grab that skin and pull.”

Robb grabbed the loose, stinking, rotten pelt and pulled as I worked. I had to be patient, methodical. The screaming had long since gone, and was replaced by whimpers. As I got the pelt to his shoulders, as Robb pulled, Joe spoke to us. He sounded human.

“Please stop. It hurts so much.”

I ignored him, continued cutting. Robb pulled.

The worst part was the head. The final piece we had to skin. The dog’s head lolled around as we peeled it from his skull, bits of bone showing through the ragged cuts made by the now dull knife.

We finally pulled it free, and Joe was silent. Still. Robb and I leaned back, panting for breath.

“We did it.”

“Fuck. Fuck.”

Joe murmured and twisted on the floor. Before our eyes, the skin started to heal up. The fire in his eyes started to glow again.

“Oh, fucking come on!” said Robb.

“Burn the pelt,” I said suddenly. “Let’s burn it and see.” We hobbled outside and threw the pelt on the nearly-dead coals of the fire. It smoked, and stank, and we heard a scream from inside the house.

“Lighter fluid,” said Robb. I grabbed the can an emptied it on the pelt, which smoked and stank even worse, like burning road kill, until it suddenly burst into oily flames. The stench was unbearable, so we ran back into the house. Joe writhed on the floor in pure agony, his face in a tight rictus of pain. As we watched, the skin on the side of his neck started to bulge out.

“What the fuck is that?” I said.

“Get it out of him,” said Robb.

I picked up the slick butcher knife and grabbed Joe. He was in too much pain, too far gone, to stop me. The shape under his skin looked ready to punch through, so I made a final cut on his skin. A bone stuck out, no bone that I recognized. The part sticking out ended in a knot, like a cartoon knee-bone, so I grabbed it and yanked. The bone came free and Joe passed out, completely unconscious.

I fell to the floor and panted.

The pelt outside burned.

“Let me see that,” said Robb, after a long pause. I handed him the bone and he went into the kitchen. I heard water running, and he came back.

“Look at this shit,” he whispered. The bone was covered in runes, some in the shapes of animals, others, people.

We managed to find Joe’s cell, hidden away inside the mattress of his room, and we called for help.

When the ambulance arrived, we told them we had been in a terrible boating accident. They took Joe away in a stretcher, and treated us for the many cuts, scrapes, and contusions.

“The fuck is that smell? What the hell are you idiots burning out here?” demanded a police officer who had shown up with the ambulance.

I didn’t say anything.

Robb, sitting next to me with a blanket covering him, finally said:

“Something evil.”

EPILOGUE:

We visited Joe in the hospital as soon as he’d regained consciousness. He had no memory of the night in question, but did tell us how angry he’d been in prison, how isolated, when we hadn’t come to visit or write. He told us he’d seen and done some terrible things, but they all seemed like a memory that he couldn't quite recall. A half-remembered dream.

We made sure to apologize to him for what had happened to him and his mother.

And he seemed satisfied with that.

14

Nearly my whole life I had a frequent, strange occurance. It wasn't until very recently that I discovered the cause. I'll try my best to recount these events as precisely and coherently as I can.

I remember the first time it happened. I was sitting in my 7th grade history class idly twirling a strand of hair while Mr. Robinson was writing on the white board. I felt a tiny drop on my shoulder. So small that if I had actually been paying attention in class I would have never noticed it. I instinctively put my hand on my shoulder to wipe away the wetness, but to my surprise it was dry. I glanced up at the ceiling expecting to see a leak. Nothing. I made a quick turn and looked behind me. There was nothing other than an empty desk.  Years passed and I never gave that incident another thought- until it happened again. I was perched up on my bathroom counter, both knees on opposite sides of the sink examing my face for any blemishes, and it happened. The drop hit my shoulder. The same spot. With no evidence it was ever there. Not a tiny speckle of water was on my shoulder. It was completely dry. I had told my mom about the strange event that just took place. She simply glanced up from the book she was reading, took one look at my face and said, "Honey, what have I told you about picking at your face? You're as red as a tomatoe. You'll grow out of pimples, but you cant grow out of scars." She was right, the pimples went away as I got older, but the dripping never did.

It wasn't frequent. I'd feel the familiar drop every two or three years. Just enough so I could never think I'd made it up. I'd learned to drive, gotten a dog, gotten married, bought a house, and had two children all while the drops kept falling on my shoulder. It was never a problem, mostly just a mild inconvenience I'd assumed was a side effect of stress.

But eventually things got worse. I was sitting at work when I felt the drop. I rubbed my shoulder out of habbit, then felt another drop pass straight through my hand and onto my shoulder. It had never happened twice before. I found myself glancing up at the ceiling knowing that nothing would be there. After that day the drops became a monthly occurance. Then weekly. Then daily. I was going to doctors, on all types of medicine, and still- nothing changed. My husband, Tod, grew more concerned with every day that passed.

Thud! "Well it's real to HER! I want solutions. Not theories, not sympathy, not more pills- Solutions!" I grabbed Tod's clenched up fist off the table. His knuckles were white from the force he landed them with. "Please, Doctor Shanon. I assure you, I'm not making this making up." The doctor sighed, "I understand Mrs. Smith, but we've tried countless treatments. We've exhausted every option." I could see Tod's jaw clenching up. I breathed in deeply trying to maintain the peace. "Is there anything else we can try?" I could hear the pleading in my own voice. The constant dripping was driving me crazy. I just wanted it to stop. The Doctor crossed her legs and sat up, "Well we do have a few more options, but you have to understand that with these things there are certain-" She stopped mid sentence. Mouth still slightly agap, eyes still focused on mine.

"Doctor Shanon?" The edges of her lips began to twitch. A small gurgling sound was coming out of her mouth from somewhere deep in her throat. Something about it was inherently wrong. Unnatural. Her pupils dilated as she slowly raised her hand and pointed a finger at me. I sat there frozen. Horrified by what I was seeing, but unable to look away. "What the fuck," Tod muttered under his breath, as he opened the door to the hallway and called for help. Doctor Shanon's eyes rolled to the back of her head as she continued to point at me. The gurgling sound becoming louder. Angrier. Another doctor walked into the room and quickly made his way to her. Just as he reached her she began speaking very quietly. Repeating the same thing over and over, voice still gurgiling, finger still pointing, "Duérmete niño. Duérmete ya. Que viene el lobo. Y te llevará."

Tod shook his head as we made our way down the hallway towards the exit. "These doctors are idiots. I mean really, she had the audacity to call you crazy when clearly she's the one with the issues." I normally would have laughed, but instead I placed my shaking hand in his. "My mother used to sing that lullaby to me." Tod looked down at me, "You mean that crap she was saying?" I nodded slowly. "It's a song meant to scare children to sleep. If they stay awake the lobo will get them." "Lobo?" "It means wolf." Tod let out a small chuckle as we reached the exit. I wished for a moment I could be as unphased as he was, but something felt wrong deep in my gut.

I felt the rain as soon we stepped outside. "The Hell?" I moaned as I fumbled around in my bag for my umbrella. I could feel my clothes already getting damp. "I thought we were in for a sunny weekend." I snapped open the umbrella and caught Tod giving me a strange look. "Maria, its not raining" I laughed a little before I realized he was serious. I outstretched my arm and saw it was dry. "No I- I can feel it everywhere, Tod." He gave me a sad look full of pity I didn't want. "I can fucking feel it" Even the umbrella was no help. The drops were all over me. I slapped my arms, slapped my legs, slapped every bit of skin I could see, but the damn drips didn't stop. It was too much to handle. I broke down in tears, collapsing to my knees as Tod dropped down to cradle my head in his arms. "I just want it to stop," I sobbed. Tod rubbed my back gently, quietly whispering next to my head. "What's wrong with me?" I cried into his shoulder for what felt like hours. After I'd calmed down, I wiped the tears and snot from my face. "I'm sorry," I sniffled.

Tod whispered something just quietly enough that I couldn't quite hear it. "What?" I asked as I pulled back to get a look at his face. His eyes were white and he was pointing at me, whispering. "Tod, stop it." I pulled myself out of his arms, but he just sat there frozen, whispering quietly. "This isn't funny Todd." He didn't even blink. I leaned in to hear what he was saying. He was repeating just one word: Lobo. My heart skipped a beat. The world fell silent. Tod sat there quietly still pointing, and in a moment of horror I realized he wasnt pointing at me, he was pointing behind me.

I gathered every bit of courage I had and turned around. I vommitted when I saw him. He was darker than the night sky and stood nearly 9 feet tall. His arms stretched out twice that length, with faces filling in every twist and turn. Faces full of anger, hate, despair, and agony. Faces that deformed, rotted, and then reincarnated right before my eyes. Out of all the faces, his was the worse. It was as if he'd found a wolf, cut off its face, and plastered it onto his. He wrenched of death and decay. Something deep within me knew that this was an ancient being. It was instinct. Every fiber of my being was screaming for me to get away. He reached out towards me, and I sat there frozen in fear as his arms tripled in length. I knew I should have ran, should have screamed, should have done anything, but all I could focus on was the face at the tip of his right arm. My face. Twisted in a million different ways.

What happened next was a blur. I wish I could say I remember how I got away- if I got away, but I don't. I just remember suddenly being held in my mothers arms, and I'm ashamed to say I punched her. She forgave me of course, being in the state of fear and confusion I was in. I remember the doctor muttering how "unbelievable" this was under his breathe. I remember countless tests, but I'll never remember anything quite as vividly as I remember him.

My name is Maria Avila. I'm 13 years old. I was in a coma for 4 months. A leak saved my life. A leak right above my shoulder, that had only been dripping for 12 minutes. The doctors call it a miracle. After hearing my story, my mom claims it was her lullaby that woke me. I imagined 30 years worth of life, my husband, my children, all of it, in 12 small minutes. I'm here to warn you. If you ever feel a drip you can't explain. Or perhaps a small breeze no one else can feel, wake up. The Lobo is lurking, and he's itching to gain a new face.

106

I can remember every single detail, from the color of the shirt my dad had on to the number of birds that were soaring through the sky. After all, that was the day that my life changed forever.

I was seven years old, and annoyed that I’d been brought to the dingy old local mall. There had been nothing worth looking at; the used clothing stores and local restaurants all had the same boring, beige color. So, after wandering around a bit (under my parents’ supervision, of course), I found myself drawn to the gigantic fountain at the center of the mall.

Sure, it only seemed gigantic because I was seven at the time, but even so, it seemed special–special enough to attract my interest. “Don’t go near that, Barry, the water’s dirty,” my parents warned, but they weren’t worried enough to physically stop me from approaching the fountain.

At the bottom of the fountain was a countless number of coins, some shiny and silver, others dirty and brown. Curious, I reached in. The water felt cool to my small hands, and I groped along the bottom of the fountain until my fingers grasped a grimy coin. I pulled it out and saw, with delight, the tails side of a quarter. And then time stopped.

The first thing I noticed was the silence. The birds stopped chirping, the people stopped clamoring, and the wind stopped blowing. As I looked around, I realized that everything was frozen: nothing was moving on this bright, sunny day except for myself. Bewildered, I stepped back a few paces from the fountain and fell onto my back, disoriented by the sudden stillness of the world around me. That’s when I heard the voice.

It was a deep, booming, civilized voice that had no visible source. Instead, it seemed to be coming straight from inside of my head. I quavered in fear as I heard the voice calmly say, “You have stolen a wish from the fountain. You have stopped a wish from coming true. I do unto others as they do unto me, and no wish of yours will ever come true again.”

Just as the voice stopped speaking, time restarted. People started bustling around once more, and my parents picked me up and snatched me away from the fountain. The only proof of the pause in time was the dirty old quarter still clutched in my hand.

The curse that the voice had set on me was proven true the next morning. That day was my birthday, and as I blew out the candles on my cake, I thought to myself, “I wish for lots and lots of presents!” Afterwards, my parents revealed that nobody had gotten me a single gift. In fact, my parents had decided that I’d somehow “outgrown” them and refused to get me anything. That’s when I remembered: “no wish of yours will ever come true again.”

Since then, I have made more wishes, and more mistakes. I wished a Merry Christmas to my best friend, and he was arrested that day. I wished my dad luck the day of his job interview; he remained unemployed for the next five years. Over time, I realized that the curse didn’t apply to just my wishes. My hopes and dreams weren’t safe either. I was rejected from all of my dream colleges, and only got into my last choice. Before my sister’s first high school basketball game, I told her, “I hope you win.” Not only did her team lose that game, they went on a two year long losing streak that ended only when she graduated from high school. Of course, these events could sound trivial, perhaps even funny. However, there are instances where the curse hurt me far worse than what I’ve mentioned, but it still pains me to recall them.

And so now, after all of the tragedies that this curse has brought on to me, I warn all of you: never take a coin from the bottom of the fountain. At this point, I’m not sure what my next step in life will be. You see, I already wished long ago that all of this would simply end, and so I have a long time ahead of myself to live with the curse. All I can really do is hope that nobody who reads this makes the same mistakes I did.

Wait. Oh no…I’ve made another wish.

58

The door opens and you stumble into the house. Plump, pretty and bustling with shopping bags. The perfect specimen of a working-class woman. Cold air seeps in behind you like a virus infecting its host. The door slams shut as you stumble through the house, dropping your keys on the carpet near the tv on the way through. I pick these up in my long spindly fingers as I crawl after you. You curse as you throw the shopping bags down the on the bench and throw your jacket onto the chair behind you. I grab onto the light with one long skeletal arm and crawl across the roof quietly until I’m directly above your head. Your hair looks so beautiful in the light. It glistens like the saliva around my mouth.

You lean back against the fridge and sigh. I hate to see you like this. It’s that darn boyfriend again isn’t it? Maybe I’ll pay him a visit later. Take out my fierce passion for you on him. You finish putting away the shopping and flop down on the couch. I wish I could do the same. Curl my long legs around your body and squeeze.

I’ve waited all day long for you to get home. Now it’s time to have some fun.

I prance about the room, keeping just out of your line of vision. Just a flicker at the edge of your sight, an innocent shadow. You turn back to your phone and I press down on that creaky floorboard down the hall making you jerk your head toward me once more. You don’t see a thing of course. I’m too well camouflaged in the shadows. You humans are so funny. Even the slightest distraction to your eyesight or hearing and your drawn to it, like a moth to flame, or a fish to a shiny object.

I’m sitting on the roof above you letting long drips of saliva drip down almost onto your head then sucking them back up again. My long, black skinned bony arm is so close your neck.

I brush my fingers across the back of your head and you spin around like something bit you. I can promise you. I don’t bite. You go for a shower, and like the gentlething I am, I wait politely outside the door. You don’t know how much I must restrain myself. You don’t know how much I would give to get in these with you. To suck those long juicy toes, squeeze those plump, tender thighs… but I respect your privacy.

You turn off all the lights. Ruining my fun already? Now I don’t even have to hide. I do respect your decision to get an early night though, boyfriend problems can be a drag. I go to slip into my usual spot, the cupboard, or maybe under the bed? Why not. Always room for new experiences. I lay underneath you, listening to your heartbeat. Its these special moments that I treasure, life couldn’t get any better.

I have always been here. Watched you grow into the person you have become. Been by you side at you highest moments, and your lowest. I know your regrets, your needs and subconscious desires.

Never dismiss that creak as the wind. That shadow a trick of the light. The truth is, there are terrible things in this world. They want to harm you, maybe even worse. They seep in through the cracks in our reality like that cold air you let in before.

Don’t despair though! We are all alone in the house now. No boogie man under the bed, no chopper coming to chop off your head. I protect you, and in return you please me like the good little plaything you are. Just remember though, I am always watching.

7

As a recent nine to fiver in NY, my day started like every other. A rushed exercise routine while a breakfast burrito microwaved was followed by reading emails while scarfing it down. I showered while planning my day including my dreaded 4 PM meeting with the dour-faced project manager, and I was out the door in thirty. Commuters clogged the arteries of sidewalks, wet from the drizzling rain, and I reached the subway to find it closed for repairs. I cursed the MTA, hoping to find a taxi, and to my relief one was idling right there. The light was on so I ran over and hopped in to direct the driver to my office. I smelled something pungent and chemical, and I asked the driver to crank a window. That was the last thing I remembered before waking up.

My head throbbed as if from a hangover and I was laying on a smooth, plastic-like ground somewhere dark and cold. I lifted my heavy body from the textured floor and tried to figure out what the long passage I was in could possibly be and how and why I was there. Gaudy faux stonework walls reached high to an arched ceiling of mock brick which all seemed to be made from airbrushed fiberglass, shiny with enamel clear coat. It was dim, lit only by a fake torch wedged into a holder on the wall that illuminated the corridor in an orange glow. I had no idea where I was, but it looked like part of a some massive theme park attraction. With no warning, a deep, gravelly voice boomed through a hidden speaker from the ceiling that made me jump.

“Welcome to Blackskull’s Lair. You have been chosen to wander the walls of wasted wanderers in this lethal labyrinth. You have nothing but what you came with, and in order to survive you will need to face ghastly abominations unlike any you have seen. There are hundreds of perilous pitfalls and torturous traps, bloodthirsty beasts and murderous mad men. There is only one path out, and it has yet to be travelled. May your death be delivered duly and your screams silenced swiftly if you fail”. A feedback squeal followed the end of the transmission and I stood, blankly staring down the long passage.

I waited a good minute for a punchline that never came, and then I clapped, this had to be some elaborate prank or some outlandish gameshow cab type of situation. I was impressed by the production value, this would have been hilarious but I had to be at work. I listened to the echo of trickling water and heard some distant clacking sounds of unseen mechanisms. I tilted my head up and smiled while speaking to the empty hall, “What is this place? That was great”, but my fingers fidgeted. I removed my phone and checked the time, 5PM? How had I missed the entire day? I then saw the numerous missed calls.

I flipped through my emails, frantically responding that I was sick in a desperate act of damage control and then realized the date listed was wrong, it read the 19th and I began panicking; I’d lost two days. I walked down the torchlit passage, slamming the base of my fist on the smooth, solid wall that jutted out molded stonework of a mossy hue in frustration. My GPS was offline but my phone worked at least.

I knocked on the solid surface and wondered where I could be with growing unease. This place felt far too complex to be a prank and too cruel to be a game show outside of possibly Japan, which watered the seed of worry in the back of my brain. I shouted “Where am I?”, which echoed through the passage and I walked down the hall until at the edge of where the fake torch’s plastic flamed flashlight could illuminate. I nearly jumped when I heard some deep, ragged breathing and I glanced behind me to the source, seeing a flicker of a shadow in the darkness. “Whoever is doing this, it isn’t funny, and it is illegal”, I tried to firmly state, but the lonely reverberation of my voice was the only reply.

I backtracked and removed the decorated flashlight from the fixture, and memories flooded back to fantasy games I’d played as a child before I’d been teased about them. I continued down the cobbled path noticing the detail of the airbrushed accents that seemed almost artful. There were fake cracks and rubber mushrooms drilled into the corners, stains and moss painted in great detail that seemed a labor of love. After a few minutes of appreciation, the feeling of being trapped returned with a reeling claustrophobia.

I nearly tripped as I stepped on a movable stone panel that sank down from the weight of my foot, causing me to drop the plastic torch to the to floor. As I bent to fetch it, a clicking startled me and a metallic screech rang in my ears as rusty steel spikes over a meter long speared outward from the walls just inches above my lowered head. I screamed, knowing just how narrowly I’d avoided being impaled and I touched the rusty skewers confirming they were very much real.

I crawled quickly past the spikes down the long, surreal corridor. My eyes teared as I jumped back to my feet and frantically dialing 911. I spoke to the dispatcher in a voice as calmly as I could as I explained my situation. “I’ve been kidnapped and trapped in some sort of maze with deadly traps. No, this is not a prank call. No my GPS isn’t working. No this is NOT A PRANK.” I relayed information as they asked for specifics I just didn’t have, and then I heard freakish, labored breathing from just behind me. Crawling under the spikes that now slowly retracted back into the walls, I then saw that horrible and very real face.

It was some deformed creature that looked nearly human but the head was a twisted, abstract mess of butchered flesh. The thin, sinewy body was just bone and knotted muscle and he wore only a filthy loincloth and belt. He carried long, metal swords extended from inside the flesh that seemed affixed to his skeleton beneath. Where eyes should be were folded flaps of mangled skin that twisted the flesh in disturbing lumps and slivers. The nose was missing, a pulpy pink cavity and the lip-less mouth flashed lengthy gums and jagged teeth that seemed more from an injury than a birth defect. I yelled as the thing charged towards me, and I ran down the long hall towards a three-way fork.

I caught my breath, squeezing the plastic base of the fake torch with my other hand as I looked back at the flailing thing chasing after, swinging those steel blades which clacked loudly against the sturdy walls. I faced a fork that split the path into three distinct wooden doors with symbols painted on them then jumped as that exaggerated, sinister voice spoke through the speaker once more. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Better choose quickly, Brad B’s close, friend”

Brad B, that had such a familiar ring to it but it took a moment for the suppressed middle school memories to flood back. Brad fucking Bastino, the spoiled bully with that asshole smirk, the newest sneakers and anything he ever wanted. He’d shove me hard into lockers and call me horrible names that the other kids picked up on. He’d punch me after school, throw my book bag in the trash, and spit in my hair more times than I could count. I remembered dying inside nearly every day, I only survived because he’d eventually discovered another target. Was he stuck in this maze too?

I tried to quickly understand the three symbols painted in dripping crimson on the doors; a crescent of a moon with lines beneath, a circle with extended rays only on the top half, and a cross made of other crosses. That thing approached, lashing wildly with those sharp blades with strength I assumed stemmed from the needle marks on the veiny arms near that familiar tattoo. I then noticed the scars from stitching on the grotesque face and temples and my jaw dropped with the realization.

That thing chasing me was human, born an upper middle class kid I’d known. That thing was Brad Bastino, he’d been carved and stitched into this ghoulish remnant of a man. That thing closing in had been my tormentor back in middle school before he targeted that childhood friend I quickly fell out with for my own survival. Before he targeted Will.

5

Some of you might have heard of Tousa, maybe you know them simply as ‘the dark web guys’.

Well, they're a lot more than that actually. Tousa is an organisation working under the government on psychological experimentation, specifically of humans. They're completely off the records, so don't bother trying to find information online, there is none.

Tousa has carried out numerous experiments on an unsuspecting populace, similar to their sister organisations like Apholith and Rayne.

Out of the many, many tests they've undertaken, some of the most interesting are Project: Porter, Project: Calhoun and Project: Fiddich.

Project Porter was an experiment wherein twenty three ‘volunteers’ were put into confined, inescapable vault, complete with bedrooms, a canteen and relaxation areas. Throughout the thirty five hour experiment the ‘fear frequency’ was played non stop in all areas. For those who don't know, the fear frequency is a tone lower than human hearing can perceive and induces a feeling of dread in the individuals exposed to it.

For the first four hours events moved as expected, confused participants trying to escape and growing accustomed to the environment.

At hour five, one woman in the canteen began asking other participants whether they had noticed the man standing in the corner with his back to them. Other volunteers insisted they didn't, and camera footage showed no such man.

By hour seven, the woman had taken to one of the bedrooms and locked her door. Other participants had given up on escaping, however several were violently sick.

By hour twelve every participant had segregated themselves to their own area, refusing to interact with others. One man began to scream from his bedroom about black spots under his skin. The woman who saw a man in the corner had moved under her bed where the cameras could not see her.

At hour sixteen an eight year old girl began screaming at an older male and insisting she ‘knew what he did’. The girl did not give the precise nature of what she believed the man to have carried out, but used several phrases such as ‘you think they won't come back for you, they hate you!’ and ‘seven, seven, seven, one state to another and then seven, seven, seven’.

By hour seventeen the man had taken the little girl into one of the bathrooms and beat her head against the sink for fifty seven minutes, even though there was barely any of her left by the end. Another participant had taken all his clothes off and began defecating across one corner of the relaxation areas, the reason is unknown. The man who had screamed about black spots under his skin had began scratching himself vigorously and after a few minutes he began to clearly stain his sheets with blood.

At hour twenty one a fifteen years old boy dragged a paraplegic woman from her wheelchair and began cutting pieces of off her legs with a steak knife and consuming them. Though she had control of her arms, she did not seem to resist. An eleven year old girl retrieved a bread knife from the kitchen and vaginally inserted it until she bled to death. The man who had defecated across the living room was approached by another male and the two began sexual relations while five other participants were in the room, including a five year old boy and a ninety six year old woman.

At hour twenty three there began an outbreak of sexual relations between the participants. The man who had screamed about black spots in his skin finally bled to death, having torn away almost forty per cent of his dermis. The defecating man was bitten by his partner and bled to death in minutes.

By hour thirty, twelve of the original twenty three were dead. While food was deposited at the canteen, every participant refrained from eating. Each had now moved into their own bedroom. Of these survivors, nine were males between twenty and forty years old, two were females in their late teens, and one was a six year old boy. Every participant chose not to stay on their bed but instead on the floor opposite their respective bedroom doors. Many of these survivors had armed themselves in one way or another.

At hour thirty one, a woman left her quarters and opened the door to each bedroom until she found the other female, who she beat to death with a chair leg before returning to her quarters.

At hour thirty two a man left his quarters to find the body of the beaten woman and began intercourse.

At hour thirty four all but the young boy moved into a single room and began sexual relations. The woman found a box of matches in the kitchen and locked the door before lighting the room on fire. While they all burned, not one of them ceased their relations.

At hour thirty five the six year old child slit his wrists with a nail he managed to pull from his bed.

The woman who had seen a figure in the corner never emerged, and after six more hours without event men searched the room to find the woman dead with her eyes scratched out. There was no blood or skin particles under her nails, so how she managed this remains a mystery.

Project: Calhoun was based on the rat/mice utopia experiment carried out by John B. Calhoun, coining the phrase ‘behavioural sink’.

The enormous complex was constructed in an undisclosed location, and similar to Calhoun’s experiment it involved creating a society that would want for nothing, safe from disease, starvation and thirst.

There were two hundred members within the almost two square miles including the multiple floors to the complex. While the society broke down at a similar rate, starting with members refusing to eat unless others were present and continuing across almost one thousand days until the weak and unsociable males were segregated and the stronger males hoarded women. Compared to the original experiment by Calhoun, the population decrease is far slower, this is due to human life spans and reproductive cycles being far longer than rodents.

Of the babies that have been born, it has been observed that the infant mortality rate is near one hundred percent, and most of the mothers die in childbirth. This experiment is still being carried out today.

Finally, and most infamously, there is Project: Fiddich, AKA the dark web.

The dark web is carefully monitored by Tousa, invisible bots constantly trawl through the pages, logging information automatically. It’s a perfect microcosm of an unbound society, a place where people offer their innermost thoughts and feelings. Complete anonymity (as far as the users are aware) let’s people be monitored in a completely different light. If you’ve ever been on the dark web, they know. Your name, face, address, ip, it’s all on a list somewhere. They know what you’ve been up to.

But they’re careful about how the dark web functions. See, they can’t just allow everybody to become aware of the possible complete ‘anonymity’. If everyone is on the dark web it stops being the ‘hive of scum and villainy’, and it becomes the norm. That’s why they have to keep you afraid of accessing it. To do this Tousa has bot 33, the first 32 being activity loggers. Bot 33 randomly selects users and gives their information to the authorities, or to others on the dark web. This creates a constant air of fear, and culls the user base to only the most dedicated, those whose hobbies and interests can only be expressed or fulfilled on the dark web.

The most interesting part of Project: Fiddich is ‘the list of twelve’. These are the twelve sites that Tousa keeps most hidden. The only way to access these sites is to be invited by Tousa themselves. This is the function of bot 34. Bot 34 searches dark web pages and finds users it deems applicable according to its algorithm. These people’s devices and ip’s are whitelisted and a link released that only they can access. This is most likely to occur if you’re a scourer of dark web forums. Do yourself a favour, never open a link from Tousa34.

The list of eight goes as follows:

  1. Tube692 Tube692 is like any other tube site, except of course, that it is infinitely more hidden. The only people with the ability to get information on the users who have submitted the content is Tousa themselves, otherwise it's unobtainable. One of the most well-known site contributors goes under the username ‘Mr.Penguinfoot’. Mr.Penguinfoot is known for his ‘prank’ videos. I won’t give his name, but he is under the protection of Tousa, who consider him to be implicit to their research. For this reason, Mr.Penguinfoot is essentially completely free to do as he wishes. He is aware that his local police department knows about him, but he has been told they are fans of his content and therefore cover up his actions. In actuality, Tousa cover up his actions. Mr.Penguinfoot’s three most viewed videos in ascending order are:

Stealing my neighbours dog:Prank In this video Mr.Penguinfoot and an accomplice known to the community as ‘Blibberzz’ sneak into his neighbour’s yard and take a black cocker spaniel. The pair move the dog into their car and drive for several minutes while making discussion to entertain their audience before arriving at a large, empty lot. Here they insert the dog into a prepared metal canister and cover it in lighter fluid before burning it alive, keeping it from escaping with a metal lid and several bricks.

Saying goodbye to Ms.Penguinfoot:Prank In this video Mr.Penguinfoot and Blibberzz ‘say goodbye’ to a recurring character, Ms.Penguinfoot. Ms.Penguinfoot was a seven year old girl the pair enticed into their vehicle in 2013. They kept her in a dark, solitary room for around 4 years, posting multiple videos around her, including torture and going as far as to attend the girls funeral in 2014, being contributive members of the search effort, and placing fake calls to the family claiming to have found the girl. In this video, originally live-streamed, they are paid forty thousand dollars to use an angle grinder on Ms.Penguinfoot’s face.

Blibberzz Last Episode:Prank While out camping Mr.Penguinfoot starts recording in the middle of the night and goes to the tent of his ex co-host Blibberzz. With the help of two friends he moves the sleeping man to the train tracks nearby, where his head is hit by the train wheels before he wakes up.

  1. Forum682 Forum682 is the most hidden forum in the world. Forum682 is unique in that it has two uses to Tousa, who target conspiracy theorists to invite to the forums. Not only does it give crucial data on user patterns, but it can be applied to get important information for other related organisations. When a genetically modified human experiment escapes from Apholith, information on this project is released onto the forums, and forum members become unwitting search parties, posting any possible sightings for Tousa to investigate.

  2. Streams407 Here users can anonymously stream footage to users, Tousa even facilitates BitCoin transactions so streamers can be paid to commit actions. Some of the most well-known streamers are iwannaseeadeadbody, Mr.Penguinfoot and 3party3for313. Streams are archived by Tousa but not the site itself, which is why many users choose to post stream footage to Tube692

  3. Market553 Here users can buy and sell anything, it’s pretty akin to Craigslist, except when I say that anything can be bought or sold here, I mean anything. One of the most interesting was a woman selling herself and her family into sexual slavery. Selling is the wrong word, she posted an ad containing her address and the names of all her family members, asking people to come. I don’t want to get too crude about her requests but rest assured it was some of the most depraved things I’ve ever heard. She also asked that she be killed and eaten at the end.

  4. Casino197 Users bet on several different games, one of the most popular being Russian Roulette. The idea is simple, your currency is your identity. Before you begin a game you must enter all of your personal details including your bank accounts, which will be verified and then you get to play. If you lose, all these details are given to the other users in the game, and fifteen minutes later released across the entire website and several Forum697 pages. Players are often found dead soon after.

  5. Hunt854 Similarly to Casino197 users enter all their detail, and provide a sum of five thousand dollars in BitCoin to join. Then a user is chosen at random and their name, face and city is given to the other players. The first player to prove they’ve killed the target wins the full pool. Users will often group up and share the sum. You’d likely be horrified by the number of average entrants. Should one of the users be suspected of leaking the users details to someone who has not paid the entrance fee, their details are released into the forums.

  6. Royale855 Users once more enter their details before they begin, however twelve players are chosen and the entrance fee is $20,000. The details are given to each of the twelve and no one else. The last of the twelve players left alive wins the pool.

  7. Cycle520 This website is open and its nature is often changed. This allows Tousa to conduct many different experiments amongst their eight.

I should stop there. Bare in mind, there is a whole lot more to be said of Tousa, but I fear I'd be wasting my breath. All I ask of you is that you never, ever, open a link from Touse34. Trust me, it's a rabbit hole which once uncovered, can never be forgotten.

152

I wasn’t sure where else I could tell this story. But as a way of coming to terms with what’s happened I guess, I need to get this out. When I was ten years old, my mum and dad bought this abandoned, trashed house in the middle of nowhere. They had got it really cheap and wanted to renovate it and sell it for hopefully, a lot more than they bought it for. I remember being ten and wondering why on earth my parents bought this place. Now that I’m older I understand things from a different perspective. Plus, apparently the place they bought this house was “up and coming”. Now I understand that they wanted to become one of those renovation couples you see on TV, but didn’t have that much money. Dad was a builder and mum made candles, but she always had a creative eye so she was great at decorating houses. Anyway, I remember visiting the house with them when they first bought it, if you could call it that, and it was disgusting. Mould everywhere, abandoned furniture and even moss growing through the floor. Side note, they actually did fix it up. Dad hired someone to bulldoze the place and he built a new house in its place. It was actually rather beautiful and they made a bit of money. Not a lot, just enough to pay a few outstanding bills they had, and put some on our mortgage. In the end, they never renovated anywhere else though.

I remember they made me wear this mask when walking through. They wanted me to stay in the car, but I insisted on going in. I was a huge fan of Goosebumps books at the time and thought there was nothing cooler than an abandoned house in the middle of nowhere. My mum told me not to touch anything, but of course I didn’t listen. I found this old, wilted chest of drawers in the bedroom and opened one of the little drawers near a rusty mirror. Inside were a couple of crumpled up receipts and an old locket. I picked it up. Considering how decrepit everything was, this locket was in pretty good condition. It was silver and had some flowers adorned on the front. I immediately fell in love with it and begged my mum to keep it. She reluctantly said yes, as long as she was allowed to clean it thoroughly first. I said yes, and was delighted when she finally gave it back to me after she had taken it to be professionally cleaned. I remember asking her if there was anything inside. She said no. Boy, she was wrong.

It was glistening. I remember it shining in the sun as I lay in the backyard on the swing seats, holding it up in front of my face as I thought about my particular dilemma for the week. I don’t know why I was so attached to it. I never wore a piece of jewellery for as long as I wore this locket. I had jewellery that my parents,, grandma and friends had given me over the years. I’d worn them all here and there, but this locket was always nearby. I want through a phase once of wearing it as a bracelet; I’d wrap it around my wrist three or four times. The actual locket itself wasn’t big, so it looked really pretty and dainty, which I loved. So anyway, this locket had seen a lot. It had been with me through may ups and downs and my life, and many of my milestones. When I graduated high school, there it was under my gown. When I got into the uni I wanted, it was there, flailing around on my wrist as I jumped up and down in excitement.

So that’s why this makes this all the more difficult. I had a soft spot for this locket, in a way I still do, but now I feel like throwing it off a cliff to the deepest ocean. Instead, it’s at the police station. Let me tell you why.

Yesterday, I was lying on my bed thinking about exams, and playing with the locket in my fingers. It was around my neck this time, and I had it open because I sometimes would put a small flower inside until it dried up. I had a little collection. My eyes focussed on the side of the locket. There was a tiny, and I mean tiny, hole on the side, big enough for my little finger’s nail to wedge inside but small enough that I had never noticed it before. It looked like it had not been manufactured like that, but like someone had purposely opened the back to make an extra secret spot. To my shock, with enough effort, the back of the locket opened. What was inside was white and folded up. It could have been no more than 2cm wide when it was folded. I unfolded it and discovered that it was a folded polaroid photo. The photo made me recoil and I dropped it, took the locket off my neck and covered my face with my hands.

The photo was of a young woman, couldn’t have been much older than me. Maybe early twenties. She had a gag around her mouth and a wound on her head. Blood spilled out from her temple. But the thing that stood out to me most was the look in her eyes - a look of utmost terror. She looked like she knew she was about to die.

Had I been carrying around the locket of a serial killer? Who would carry something like that? I had so many questions. I called my mum and told her, and she told me we had to give it to the police as it was probably evidence of a crime. I didn’t touch the polaroid after that, I put it in a little zip lock bag. Whatever DNA there may have been on the locket was long gone, but maybe there was something on the polaroid that would be of use. I didn’t know. Perhaps I’d never know. I guess I don’t really want to know. But a little part of me does. As horrifying as the photo was, and as traumatising a thought it was to me that I had been carrying that for so long, so close to me, I was hoping I’d one day find out who the woman was and if her killer was ever found. We told the police as much information as we could about the locket and the house. Hopefully some good will come out of all of this.

702

I guess this story all comes down to me being a dumb teenager. I was 14 and not that popular in school. I had much more success online where I’d write posts and post pictures and get the attention of a few users across the world. One day, being my bored self, I googles ‘chatting website teens.’ Nexos came up, I didn’t hesitate to join- why not? In short, it’s a website, where you can get chats and messages and where everyone has a short profile. What mainly attracted me was the huge numbers of messages I got almost instantly after signing up. The website basically tells users who is new, so I got showered in ‘welcome Carla!’ messages. Some stood up more than others. This guy, Mike, stood out A LOT. He was also a teen, he played basketball, and he looked hot! We started chatting, we got along, soon we were basically spending chatting. You know how that goes…

Anitta, my friend, asked me who I was talking to so intensively. I showed her Mike’s profile and she said ‘Really? This guy looks like a creep! Did you even read his profile and see his friends?’ I had but I mean, I am not going to basically meet him, right? Guy is in Florida, I’m in Canada so who cares. My friend shrugged, I had a point. The thing with Mike is that his profile basically was filled with ‘what kind of girl’ he was looking for. To give you an idea, he was looking for girls who felt lonely, who were down to earth, who were single, ideally virgins, who were quiet but had a lot on their minds, etc.’

A few weeks after we started talking, Mike suggested that I come visit. I pretty much laughed it off. Like… I’m 14, I don’t know you, I have parents, and all this costs money. He agreed, said it was a silly idea but that he really likes me and wants to show appreciation. So he asks me what my address is. Now, I might have been dumb, but not THAT dumb. I told him that he was sweet, but no. A few days later, the lunch monitor at school called me and said they had gotten a package for me. Now, this isn’t exactly unusual for the school to get packages for girls since a lot of them were living there as it was a boarding school too, but me? So I open it, it’s a necklace with some earrings from Mike. I freaked out. I went to see my friend and all she had to say was ‘Woah! Are those REAL?’ I was ready to let her have them. I was horrified that Mike had sent those to me. How did he know? I messaged him, told him the weirdest thing happened and that I’m assuming it was a mistake, right? He replied it wasn’t a mistake and that he saw my uniform in some pictures I had sent. Fuck.

I guess this is where I fucked up. Instead of cutting all bridges and telling him that I wasn’t interested, I said thanks. Soon, Mike started sending me more stuff. Clothes, purses, stuff. I’d send him back cute letters and videos. One day he said his friend Andrew was coming to Montreal and that he’d have something for me, to pick a place for me to meet him. I mean, Mike was literally asking ME to pick a place, so it’s not like the other guy was a predator or anything, right? And how can I say no to Mike anyway? He’s sent me thousands of dollars’ worth of stuff so far. So I picked a busy street, and met him one Saturday morning. He handed me one of those Asian money envelopes. He said ‘Matt really likes you, he’d love to meet you, he cannot stop telling us about you Carla. He’s considering coming here, would you like to meet him?’ Something was off. I replied ‘Matt talks about me? Really? That’s so sweet. I’d love to go, but my parents would notice me going on a plane and I have no passport.’ He didn’t even seem bothered at all. He said it wasn’t a problem and suggested that instead Matt comes to visit.’ I said sure, he paid for the smoothie and left.

Now hear me out, how the hell do you confuse your friend’s name several times and call him Matt instead of Mike? I figured that when I’d call him Matt, he’d say ‘wait whose Matt?’ but no, Andrew clearly thought Mike’s name was Matt. Also, he was around 35, definitely not 15 years old like Mike. He also had handed me a thousand Canadian dollars and I, the dumbass, took it all and agreed to meet him Mike… or Matt or whatever his name is. At that point, things started getting bad. Very bad. Mike contacted me almost instantly after he left and said he was happy that all went well and that he will arrange things to come and meet me. I didn’t reply, he started freaking out. He called, about 10 times, then texted. I answered and said I was in the subway, didn’t hear the phone. He seemed like he believed me. Later that day he told me that he couldn’t come to Montreal, but that he’d be able to meet me in Toronto, a couple hours away. He told me to tell my parents I was having a sleepover and to purchase bus tickets with the cash he had given me and to purchase a flight for him from Florida to Canada with the same cash. He said it was easier from Canada. I am pretty sure I replied ‘wtf?’ and he gave me a paragraph long of how much shit I’d be in if I didn’t agree, that he did ALL this for me and that he has TONS of friends in street gangs in Montreal and that I’d pretty much be better off dead.

That’s when I was smart, I went to my English teacher and told her EVERYTHING. She contacted my parents and then the cops. After showing them all the items I got, all the chats, all the cash they took my case very seriously. They suggested to not change the plans at all for Mike not to get suspicious but that this didn’t sound good at all and that they’d figure it out. I stayed home that week, kept close contact with a police offer and basically told her everything that was happening. I purchased the tickets, did everything Mike told me to and when came time to go and meet him in Toronto, the police sent another girl as bait. She wore the clothes Mike sent me, the purse he gave me, looked like me, the whole thing was creepy.

Turns out Mike was a 42 year old man that’s known for human trafficking in Asia. According to what they had found in his possession, he had planned to move across Canada through the West and fly me to Asia from there. I wasn’t alone either, he had been chatting with many other girls, and I was apparently just the easiest one to get through. Mike confessed that he really didn’t expect me to suspect a thing.

That was 6 years ago. Years of therapy helped me get this out of my mind, but this morning I made an encounter that brought all this back. I saw Andrew, in Montreal, chatting with a young girl and handing her an Asian money envelope.

6

“Do you love me?”

That was all it took to flip my world upside down. She didn’t answer.

“She” is not important anymore. I can’t believe that I was deceived for so long. It was a normal day in my school, classes were finishing and everyone was packing to go home. I was mustering my courage for the past week to ask her that question. I waited for her in our usual spot, so we could walk home together. When I saw her, beautiful as ever, I knew that it was time. As cherry and energetic as she always has been she said “hey, you ready?” I completely ignored her question and asked mine. And it all went to hell from that point onward.

Her eyes went wide and seemed pretty lifeless. She didn’t answer. She just walked towards her house. I followed because I wanted an answer. For the whole trip home, she didn’t say anything, her pattern of walking didn’t change one bit. I just assumed that I fucked up my relationship with her. When we got to her house I told her that she didn’t have to give an answer right away and that she could take her time with it and that I wouldn’t be mad if she didn’t feel the same way that I did and all the shit that you would say when you are in that situation.

I continued my walk home and started noticing some pretty fucked up stuff. The whole world seemed to be going to hell. First the sky was purple, I don’t know why I haven’t noticed that earlier. I think her response to me (or the lack of thereof) made me blind to that. I read somewhere that purple sky was normal in some places like the middle east during spring, but this was first time that it happened in my town. Global Warming is really gonna be the end of us I thought, oblivious to the fact that Global Warming was the least of my problems.

Walking to my house, things started to change. There is a staircase that I usually cross coming home from school. The staircase was a lot shorter that it was before, like 10 or 15 steps shorter. And things like that started happening rapidly. The light signals on the way home were all red and didn’t change, but the traffic kept moving. The sun started to set even though it was 4 P.M in April. People didn’t seem alive, they all walked like robots, didn’t talk at all, eyes lifeless, even kids seemed dead. It was like a fleet of zombies.

I was pretty freaked out, but what the hell was I supposed to do? I kept walking home hoping that my parents would have a logical explanation to what was going on. When I got to my street I was a little relieved that I was close to the house, but the crazy stuff has made its way to my street. The paint of the houses (including our own) was wrong. When I got in front of the front lawn of our next-door neighbor I saw that there was a cat in his dog house with the same name tag that was on his dog.

When I finally reached our front lawn. A black van came out of nowhere, stopped right next to me. About five black clothed men came out and beat me into submission. I tried to fight back, but I’m not exactly Bruce Lee material. They put me inside the van and drove for about…I don’t know, I was barely conscious after the beating. Anyways they stopped the van after a while, stepped out, one of them put me on his back, and then they carried me inside a warehouse of some kind.

When we were inside, one of them took out a syringe with some light green liquid inside it and injected me with the substance. I would’ve fought back if I had the stamina. Then I could feel my strength coming back to me. I was able to talk and move and the pain subsided. I was gonna make a joke about the green substance being some kind of an HP pack like in a videogame, but I had more pressing questions at the moment.

Before I could speak, one of the men (I think he was their leader) said “Yes, this is an HP pack” I was awe struck. Did he just read my mind? What the actual fuck? I wanted to ask so much questions, but my mind was racing. I couldn’t pick a question. I would start with one and end with another.

“How did you…why did…the sky is purple…did you read my thoughts?” I started frantically saying a cluster of words that somehow might have made a question.

“Calm down, we are not your enemies and we mean you no harm” said the one who seemed like there leader.

“Yeah, no fucking shit, you mean no harm? You beat the living daylights out of me”

“We had to do it” said the leader “We could not afford to lose time by making you agree to go with us, so we had to take you by force”

“What the fuck do you want? And why is the world coming to hell?”

“Okay kiddo calm down, you’re not gonna remember any of this, so just let’s do our job and we will leave you alone”

“What? You’re kidding me!” I exclaimed “You gotta be fucking kidding me. If you’re gonna kidnap me at least have the common decency to tell me why” The leader sighed with a look of sadness on his face, I honestly felt better because he seemed that he really doesn’t wanna hurt me.

“Okay fine, I’ll explain everything to you, but you aren’t allowed to interrupt me while talking and when I’m done you’re gonna help us fix your world”

“My world?” I replied.

“No interruption, Yes or No?” said the leader.

I reluctantly agreed, at that point I noticed that the other men were looking at me with signs of grief which made me feel uncomfortable and more focused on what the leader was saying.

“Okay listen up, you’re not a human” said the leader.

“The fuck?” I replied.

“NO INTERRUPTIONS, we don’t have time. You are an AI designed by us. Humans. You are one of the most advanced things we have made. We have reached the testing process with you and made breakthroughs studying your behavior. You are living inside a simulation, that way we can see how you will interact with people when we release you to the real world. Your whole life is a lie. Didn’t you notice that you never left your home town? That’s because of the limitations of the simulation. You are the beta version of yourself there are certain things that we haven’t implemented in you. The feeling of love and the feeling of anticipation to be exact. They are hard for us to implement that’s why they are the last changes that will be made to you. You remember that girl that you asked if she loves you? She’s a part of the simulation, but she’s not as advanced as you. She is mostly scripted with a little bit of neural networks to keep her human like. That’s why when you asked her if she loves you, the world began to go to hell because she wasn’t scripted to answer such questions since the feeling of love isn’t implemented in you yet. It’s quite surprising that you asked that question, it will surely go on our reports on you and your behavior, it will give us a more proper understanding of love. But since you asked it while we were unprepared it broke the simulation down. We need to fix it as soon as possible or else you might lose some of the data that you have gathered as “memories” and this means months if not years of work will be lost. Also the five of us are the only humans that you have met in your life. I’m the leader of the project and the main designer of you. I’m actually really proud of you this is the 3rd time that you have broken the simulation. No other AI have managed to do that. You are very promising. You have exceeded our expectations. As the main designer of you, I promise that I will finish implementing you as soon as possible, in fact I think this is the best time to test the feeling of love. That will surely speed the testing operation a lot.”

I took all that in under a minute. I didn’t know how to respond. How do you respond when someone tells that all of what you know is a lie? So, I did what any sane person would do in this situation. I entered a state of denial.

“What the fuck are you guys on?”

“Listen I know this is a lot to take in and that you probably won’t believe it. I don’t blame you. But we have to fix the simulation. I will inject you with a syringe that will make you pass out. Effectively shutting you down. That way you won’t lose any information when we restart the simulation.” The leader then proceeds to take a syringe out of his pocket.

“Hell no. You are not gonna put this in me. You piece of shit. I don’t give a fluctuant fairy fuck about what you think you are. You are not gonna inject me with some sedatives”

But of course, my objections don’t mean anything when the five of them held me still and then put the syringe in my arm. I started to get dizzy and then I heard a faint voice saying: “Don’t worry this isn’t the first time we have done this. You won’t remember anything of this I promise”


“Do you love me?”

That was all it took to flip my world upside down. She said Yes.

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22

“MAKE IT STOP!!!!”

“PLEASE!!!”

“I DIDN’T MEAN IT!!!”

The screams are echoing down the hall and into the nurse station where I am trying my best to ignore them… that sound extremely mean.

I don’t mean to sound callous or indifferent, but you have to understand the girl has been screaming like that for days. Most doctors in the hospital have been to see her at least once. Everyone from the cardiologist to the neuro specialist have been in to take a look at her condition, through the plastic sheeting of her quarantine bubble. What is weird, is that what she has is ostensibly a rash.

I tried to make a drawing of it, but I don’t think I captured it all that well: https://imgur.com/5k9kbpU

The problem is that it is spreading and we don’t know why. We have tried to take samples of it, but no blade or needle will piece the thick growths that is crawling up this poor girls arm and onto her face. Even the bonesaw broke, when we got desperate enough to bring that to her marked skin.

We have tried to draw blood from her, but come up dry every time. It’s like she has no blood at all, or like it has started to flow so thick that a needle would be unable to suck it up. There has even been talk of amputating one of her good limbs, just to acquire a sample, but that seems too cruel.

We have tried to administer every pain reliever known to man, but each just seem to increase the distress that this poor girl is in. She has regurgitated every pill that we have given her and administering painkillers through a drip has been impossible.

The cruel irony is that we still don’t know who she is, she hasn’t been able to stop screaming for long enough to tell us. We put out pictures and a description to the police, but we haven’t gotten any response yet.

I feel so bad for her, she is stuck here, with no one she loves by her side, no one who truly knows what she is all about. This poor girl is living in hell and we are powerless to comfort, we are powerless cure… we are just plain powerless.

The hikers that found her have been hanging around too. They are good people and want to make sure she has someone here for her, but they don’t know her. They just found her in the park crying and clutching her hand. They didn’t think much of it at first, that was until they saw the blood running down her summer dress.

She has been here for over a week, and he screams haven’t stopped in all that time and neither has the condition. What started on the back of her hand has grown to take up her entire arm. One would think that she would have lost her voice at this point, but she hasn’t. She just keep wailing in a voice that increases in panic and volume.

The only thing that we can do at this point is make the poor creature comfortable, watch the rash slowly eat this girl alive and wait.

I am posting here as a cry for help, we are out of options. Please, if you know this girl, or have any input on what could be wrong with her, let us know.

We are desperate.

5

Hey dudes and dudettes, I've been reading on this subreddit quite a lot and I am enjoying it very much. While reading all these stories, I pondered myself whether I had ever witnessed something unexplainable, weird and spooky that I can share with you guys. It seems I quite fortunately live a quiet life, but there's one story from the time I was in the army that I want to share with you.


February 2012, somewhere in the Alps

When I was twenty years old, I had to serve 10 months in my country's army. At the time of the incident I'm going to tell you about, I was about seven months in. I had completed basic training as a medic and then several additional training modules on advanced life support, "golden hour patient transportation" and helicopter-assisted rescue. Also, of our platoon or around 30 medics, I was part of four "emergency specialists" that would assist the surgeon during operations at a field hospital. Long story short, in a case of war, my duty would've been to get wounded soldiers from the frontline to the field hospital and stabilize them until they can be transported to regular military (or civil) hospital.

My training base was located on the southern slope of an important pass at around 5000 ft above sea level, with the road going by our base. In the winter, the road was closed and we usually had tons of snow. In early February 2012, we had about five feet (1.50m) of it and it wouldn't melt until mid April usually. Now, after basic training, we were normally given a weekend leave from Friday evening or Saturday morning to Sunday evening or even Monday morning. However, someone had to guard the base for that time, a complement of six soldiers plus a Sergeant, with a Lieutenant on standby in another military base down in the valley town. I was part of that unlucky crew (everybody had to do guard duty every now and then, but you could also be sentenced to do it if you fucked up something; I did not). Guard duty was performed by two soldiers each, adding up to three 8hr shifts. It consisted of guarding the entrance and patrolling the area every few hours. It was very dull most times, because there was not a soul in miles, so if you were off-duty, we'd play cards, sleep, read, fap or get food from the town below with the Sergeant (the road was open up until our base, but not further).

So, one Saturday afternoon it was sunny outside and I had no guard duty until 10pm, three other guys (I'll call the Nick, Toby and Michael) and me sat at the table in the guard room doing whatever, when Nick looked up and asked whether we'd like to get our snow shoes and check the area for a bit. We liked the idea of getting the sun on our faces, but we wondered why he'd come up with this idea so suddenly. We had been patrolling around the base with our snow shoes every few hours and there was nothing of interest around, only silent forest and higher up snow covered alpine pastures.

"Why would you get your snow shoes on when you can just stand in front of the entrance with your normal shoes and enjoy the warm sun?" asked Michael, who went for a smoke like this every now and then.

"Because, when I went down to the town with the Sarge this morning, he told me something about the mobile and internet reception being really bad out of a sudden and asked me if I'd like to check out the antenna above the base. Of course I'd rather not go alone."

There was a cable car station next to our base. It went up to a ridge, but you couldn't see the top station from our base. According to the Sergeant, there was an antenna right next to the top station that would cover the upper part of the valley. We were allowed to go up there and check for any reason that could explain the drop in reception. We were instantly in on the idea: we would be outside, get some exercise, actually doing something useful and maybe get some nice pictures of the scenery. So we got our snow shoes and basically the entire combat equipment, including our assault rifles with live ammunition (guard duty was taken pretty serious). We left at 2pm and calculated it would take us around two hours up to the station that was around 300 - 400m higher up, 30mins of examining and then 1,5hrs back down, so we would be back at lunch time at 6pm.

We got in line and started going. I was good with maps, so I went first. We got up in a pretty nice pace, avalanche risk was moderate and it was not very steep most times, so we arrived before 4pm. The station was located below a ridge and there was a rather flat huge area around the station. Although we were still rather close to our base, you couldn't see it from there, you could only see the lower part of the valley far down and tons of mountains around it.

The first thing we noticed was that the antenna was twisted to the fucking ground. About 30m high and 1m in diameter at the base, it was twisted at head's height, with the upper part bending to the ground. It was also charred and smelt quite weird, like burnt cable (which made some sense). I was pretty speechless, because there had been no thunderstorms since August and I found only a lightning may have caused such havoc.

"Hey check this out", Michael shouted from further away. He had been going around the station to the steep rocky wall that went up to the ridge. There was a steel door in the rock and it was bent open, looking pretty much like the antenna.

"This was no lightning, I guess", I mumbled. "Yeah, lightnings strike exposed objects like trees and antenna, but hardly ever a steel door surrounded by various places of higher altitude", Michael said. "But it's still possible", Nick mentioned. He and Toby had come over. "Yeah but I doubt that a lightning can melt a massive steel door and bend it like this", Michael whispered.

The steel door was bent so far that it did not anymore cover the entrance fully, but the gap was still too narrow for a man to get in. I'd also like to mention that the door was about 40cm in thickness and likely weighing tons. As we had no explanation to the whole thing and the equipment to fix it neither, all we could do was calling base and tell them what's up. Toby had some military-grade mobile phone with him, so he stepped aside and called base.

"Reception was really bad, I gave them an idea what we found but I couldn't understand anything and I'm not even sure if they understood me", he told us when he came back. We decided to take a short break, rehydrate and then head down. It was rather chilly up here and there were clouds and fog coming in rather quickly from the east.

"The fuck's this", Nick whispered, spitting out some of his sandwich, pointing towards the other end of the flat area, about 500m away. I squinted my eyes and saw a fox strolling through the snow. "It's just a red fox", I responded, probably sounding confused. "Yeah, but what the fuck is it doing up here", Nick said, still chewing on the last bits of his sandwich. "I don't know, dude..." Toby mumbled. By now, Nick and I had gotten our binoculars out and were spotting it. We were watching it for about a minute, when suddenly it stood up on its hind legs, looked straight at us, made some sort of animalistic grin and then, still on its hind legs, sprinted behind a boulder some 10m next to it.

"What the...", was all I could say. The others were speechless. "That fox's probably sick or retarded", Michael said lauging, lighting another cigarette. "Or both", Nick added. "Yeah but that was weird as fuck", I said, putting the binocs back in the backpack. "We should really head back down, folks", Toby then said, looking at his watch.

It was past 4.30pm now and a thin fog had reduced visibility to around 200-300m. We were about to leave when a

HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIHHHHHHHH

pierced the relative silence.

We were spooked now. It sounded like a screech and it was close. Then we spotted the fox again, on its hind legs, on a boulder less than 100m from us, its snout wide open. Then we heard another screech from farther away, and then another. And another.

"Ok guys, we need to get the fuck down", Nick said in a slightly stressed voice. We all agreed and hurriedly put on our gear. As we left the station, the sun had set, dusk had started to set in and we could see no farther than around 50m. It was also snowing a bit, but we still saw our tracks. The screeches followed us, coming from every direction and sounding both closer and farther away. Every now and then I could swear I'd see a fox-like silhouette running around in the fog, but everytime I'd fix my vision on that point it'd be gone.

"There's one below us", said Toby, who led us on our way down, confirming that he also saw something circling us. "It's a fucking fox", he added. "What's wrong with this fucker?" "I don't care what's wrong with it as long as it stays away. It could be sick", Nick said behind me. "I don't want to catch rabies or something like that"

There was no reported case of wild animals suffering from rabies in my country for more than ten years, but my thoughts were interrupted by another screech above us. We had reached one of the steeper parts of the route, where we had to go below a band of rock.

HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIHHHHHHHHHHHSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHH

It was now semi-dark and we put our lights on, but we couldn't see no farther than 30m now. The path was narrow and we continued careful and slowly. Suddenly, Toby froze in his movements. "What's the matter", I said when I caught up to him and froze as well.

There was one red fox sitting like a cat on the path in front of us, its tail wagging in a spastic manner, letting out SHIIIIIs and SHHHs.

"Don't let it get closer", I whispered, concerned. Toby responded in getting his assault rifle in a firing position, nodding. We were now all standing next to each other, wondering what the fuck was going on and what we should do. "Fuck, theres one behind as well", Michael shouted nervously while taking up his rifle as well. I looked back and saw a fox standing on its hind legs, twitching his head back and forth, then letting out a SHIIIIIIIH and then disappearing on four legs. The one in front was still sitting there and judging us. By now, Nick had found a small rock in the snow and threw it at he fox. He missed, but the fox disappeard into the fog, letting out a taunting SHIIIIIIII that sounded like laughter.

"I'll shoot the next fucking fox I come across in its fucking retarded face", he gasped, sounding stressed the fuck out. "Don't. Let's go on", I said.

And so we did. We were now more than half way through and the terrain was getting flatter again. That was when I took a snowball to the face.

"What..." was all I could say, disbelieving. No one said a sound, but they all looked at me, their faces a mixture of disbelief, concern and worry. Then another snowball came flying in, missing Nick by an inch. By now, we all had our rifles locked and loaded, barely containing ourselves from straight up running away. Michael had even put his bayonet on his rifle and I considered doing so as well.

Then they started throwing rocks. Rockes the size of our fists. Their SHIIIIIIIIIIS would pierce the fog every now and then. Luckily they were missing. That's when Nick had enough. He took up his rifle, aimed into the foggy slope above us and put out a three shot burst. The throwing stopped and for a moment there was silence, then we could barely hear the sound of foot steps a fox-sized animal would make in the snow slowly getting quieter.

"Guess that'll scare them off", Nick whispered. "Lets go now, it's past six", he added. We all did so gladly. The spook was over. The rest of the path was uneventful and we arrived back down at the base at around 7pm.

When we entered the base, we were briefed by the Sergeant. We told him about the antenna and the door and he told us that the antenna was operated by a civil phone company and that he would forward our findings to the ones responsible. As to the steel door, he said he didn't know that there was one but that there once was a bunker in that area that was used as a scouting outpost for artillery decades back. We then asked him whether he got our call and he told us that he did but all he could hear was noise. We even mentioned seeing a fox, but all he did was laughing and tell us that we should hurry and get something to eat.

We did talk a bit about the whole thing, but neither came forth with a sound explanation as to what we had witnessed. Nick was very concered that he would get in trouble for unallowed discharge of live ammunition, but we figured no one had heard the shots and I supposed that he somehow covered up the missing shots, which wasn't too hard honestly. Eventually we would just go on with our exercises once the new week started and once we fulfilled the service, we simply lost touch.

Until now, have no explanation. The animal was clearly a red fox, an animal I have seen countless times and that is very common where I live. Though, I can hardly believe why a red fox, or more precisely a pack of red foxes, would venture that far up a mountain where there is a good 2m of snow and nothing to eat. I don't even think that red foxes live in packs. Or walk on their fucking hind legs. I've seen some cats doing this on youtube, but not foxes. Apart from that, it looked like normal foxes; normal fur, normal posture, normal size. The only things that were really off were the movements, the screeches and location of the incident.

Of course, some weird vibe stung to me and I couldn't simply laugh it off. We all had seen it or them. They threw fucking snowballs and rocks at us. We, or at least I, was sober (no alcohol on guard duty ofc), didn't smoke weed for weeks, I don't do drugs, I wasn't on any kind of medication, I have no history of hallucination and I was healthy and feeling good at the day it happened. Also, I normally don't suffer from any symptoms of altitude sickness below 2500m altitude and we were below that (top station was around 2000m I guess), and I would only suffer from headaches when I go higher, and I never hallucinated.

I can also pretty much rule out any pranks. The other two dudes were guarding the entrance and have been doing so the whole time. There was no soul in sight, rarely there were off piste skiers in the area, but not on that day. We also didn't see any human tracks, or tracks in general.

So, what the fuck did we see?

162
Posted by21 hours agoGilded1

Part 1

It's been a while, hasn't it? Sorry. It seems like the air quality now is a lot worse, so I've been having a hard time breathing. Other than that, there's nothing really interesting going on on my end. My hostess has been good to me. Her name's Arielle by the way. Really cool woman. She even believes my story despite the fact that I probably sound like a total nutjob.

I'm only writing because Derrick sent me a note today. Along with a twig, a pebble and a piece of charcoal. I think it's the most useful if I just copy the whole thing here, so that's what I'll do.

Thalia,

I know this writing's messy. I hurt my hand. And I'm sorry for taking so long to write to you. I've been busy setting up camp. I landed in our basement, 500 years in the future. The power still works, but the walls and floor needed some fixing. Everything above ground is completely demolished.

I read that you've asked some of the people on your end for help. It's really nice of them to offer ideas, but unfortunately I can't repay them. Any major development I share, like the cure for cancer or the optimal space travel machine, would probably mess up some wibbly wobbly, timey wimey... stuff.

Anyways, I'm sure you want to hear about what's going on over here. I'll fill you in from the start.

The first thing I did when I got out of the machine was go look for supplies. I took a backpack from the basement and set out. In the wreckage, it wasn't too hard to find some heavy things to defend myself with. I strapped a pipe section to my belt and a metal plate to my backpack as a flank guard. I even got my hands on an old ion gun. I wanted to avoid using that, since it's not exactly the safest thing to be waving around.

Anyways, I went around to grab anything useful I could salvage: metal parts, wires, food and random junk I could try sending through the time machine. With a bunch of stuff strapped to me, it was pretty easy to blend in in a ruined suburb. Until I heard something moving around behind me.

When I turned around, I saw one of the Infested. That's what I'll call them, since that's as accurately as I can describe them with one word. I guess it saw me too, since it started making its way towards me. It still looked like a 2518 human, but it wore a black helmet and a matching black gauntlet which covered most of its right arm, both too large for a normal human. This one had to be around 6'5", and seemed to be alone. Out of curiosity, I approached it. It charged at me.

Naturally, I tried to repeat the tactic that felled the Infested back in 2518. I swung at its left side, where its liver would be. Instead of crumpling the Infested, it crumpled my hand. I cursed. The thing took the opportunity and tackled me to the ground. I could see now that under its human clothes, it wore parts of an exoskeleton. There was a sizable bump at the left side, the groin, the neck and both knees. The Infested pinned me on the ground with its gauntlet. Its weight made it hard to breathe.

I had to shoot it with the ion gun.

Its head exploded. Instead of brain matter or blood, black tar splattered everywhere. I had the foresight to shield my face with my arm, and I'm glad I did. Almost immediately afterwards, my forearm started burning. I cut free a piece of the Infested's shirt and used it to scrape off the caustic stuff as best as I could. I'll probably have a pretty nasty scar there now.

I decided to study the corpse a bit more closely. It turns out, the gauntlet is made of the same material as the exoskeleton, something like blackened, dry bone. I would assume the helmet is too, if it weren't splattered all over the surroundings. I swung the pipe at it. It was like hitting solid rock. No good.

Seeing as blunt objects were useless, I discarded my pipe. Any armor would be ineffective too, considering the size of these creatures compared to myself. They would easily squash me, armored or not. So I dropped off most of my metal plates. I also cut off the rest of the Infested's shirt, using a strip to bandage my throbbing hand and keeping the rest for any other purposes I might need it for.

I didn't want to use the ion gun again, so I decided to go back to home base to work on intel. The first thing I did was try to send different things through the time machine. I started with two pebbles of roughly the same size. I'm pretty sure those went fine, but let me know. Next, I tried a rubber glove and a piece of fabric from the Infested's shirt. Both went up in flames, and I'm pretty sure nothing went through. Then, I tried a piece of pork and a piece of beef. If that worked, I could just empty out the freezer to send myself back. Both meats disappeared, but I smelled smoke, so I took that as a bad sign. Finally, I tried a stick and a leaf from the same tree. That went well, I think. But let me know.

My conclusion is that I'll have to get human material to be able to use the machine safely. So I'm stuck in this time for now.

I also remembered that I might still have those solar drones outside. I tried tapping into them with my holo. One is dead, and the other was in a hole somewhere, surrounded by rubble. I flew that one out and decided to look around.

This was when I resolved to call those things the Infested.

What used to be the downtown city was built over by the Infested. It was a giant, dome-shaped structure I can only describe as a hive. The whole thing had a beehive-like appearance, with the regular hexagonal holes tiling the surface. Unlike a beehive's gentle yellow, this hive was bright red, like coagulated blood. Swarms of Infested overran the place. They walked around on the ground, climbed on the hive and disappeared and reappeared in the holes. From the air, they looked like a swarm of giant ants, or termites maybe.

I turned the drone away, not wanting to look at this defilement of the human race. As I did, I saw a glint. Curious, I flew towards it. It had to be about five or six, maybe more, kilometers away, a safe distance from the hive. It was on the same side of the hive as my current location, so I could investigate in person if I wanted to.

And I did very much want to investigate in person.

I had happened upon some solar panels. I flew in behind them, and there was a small village there. As I looked around the place, I was astonished. The village was completely isolated in a clearing, but the people seemed to be thriving. As I was about to fly the drone back out, I saw a man train an ion gun on the drone, but his wife stopped him from shooting. The drone has no audio feed, so I couldn't hear what they were saying. I landed the craft as a sign of peace. They might be my best chance at survival.

I'm going to try to do some more intel to see if it's safe to make the trek over there. I'll try to get more information on these Infested. I'll keep you posted.

I've already told him that the pebble and the twig came out fine, but the meat was extra crispy. I also told him that I have a place to stay, so there's no need to worry about me. Plus, I volunteered Arielle's efforts for any future time machine testing. I guess we have more resources than him right now, so it's only right.

If there's anything else that might help him, please tell me. This is life and death.

4

One of the few people who I actually got along with died a mysterious death. The death occurred about 7 years ago, and the one thing that seemed out of the ordinary, was that her movements around any form or drainage with her house, that I was able to observe seemed like there was a very slight outside influence. It would be like there was an invisible bubble, that brushed her hands to the side.

As unusual as it was, it never really stood out to me, until I read her death report. As it turns out she was the 37th victim of a series of deaths caused by an unknown being.

CASEFILE: DRAINED / CIVILIAN #035

Deceased woman, identified as Jennifer Mills, was found inside her apartment. Due to lack of attendance at her job as a Sales representative, for a large hardware company. Four days without communication, and calls from family and work colleagues, the police gained entry with access granted by the building supervisor.

The skin was found on the bathroom floor. The supervisor was horrified by the remains of her body. During the investigation, a small journal was found, documenting the last five weeks of her life, which was the same time as when she moved in. References to a therapist allowed the Police to find out more about the deceased.

Interviews with the therapist indicate that the victim was a victim of a subset of Trypophobia. Instead of irregular holes, it was drainage pipes specifically regarding house plumbing. She could feel something was trying to reach her through the plumbing. She would have nightmares about the pipes acting like a snake, slithering across her bedroom floor, but when she woke up, nothing would be different. After eight months of conversation regarding this, in which she is adamant that she sees a singular eye looking up at her, through the drain cover. Oddly, the shower wasn't a problem for her.

The doctor recommended that the deceased use a journal to document her feelings and they would go over it at their weekly sessions together. One thing that was noted, was that the fear was only when the deceased was conscious of her proximity to a drain in her home. Since this was a problem that had occurred at her old residence, a move was suggested, in case it was an odd sensation of domicile dissonance.

After the move, the sensation seemed to escalate in intensity. For reasons currently unknown, the deceased was not afraid of approaching these drainage areas, and would be functional, until they see the drain. Then the fear kicks in. It is highly unusual among phobia sufferers. The doctor paled at hearing the description of the state of her body.

She mentioned she knew of one other therapist who had a near identical patient in terms of specific phobia sub-set, and state of body after recovery by Police.

Details were exchanged and the Police resumed their investigation. The initial paperwork triggered automated spybots within various networks caught the expression 'hollowed out'. The Morticians took custody over the investigation.

From what the Morticians were able to uncover details that they didn't want the Police to disseminate. Every case so far, the skin of the person was found within arms reach of a drain, normally near the bathroom sink. A singular circular wound, smaller than the holes in the drain on a finger is the only visible indicator of what has happened. No signs of skeletal, nerves, pulmonary or circulatory systems could be located. Fatty tissue is also missing as well as the musculature.

The obvious action is to check the plumbing. The drain cover is there, but there are no pipes at all. Kitchen, laundry, toilet and bathroom. All of the plumbing would be gone. Upon further inquiry, the owner of the building, or water board company would note that the water for the location has been turned off, and that there is no account that was opened for the name of the deceased. The drain cover had no organic matter to indicate the presence of the body matter. Pets would never be affected, and they would sit by the main entry point and would repeatedly vocalize their discomfort until their death or rescue.

Journal Entry

"It can see me. It Knows me. Why can't it stop watching me when I am in the bathroom. I can almost see it, but part of me is so terrified of the drain. It isn't until I see it, my brain screams at me to run and don't look back. When I glance away, the fear is gone, like a switch being turned off. At least the dreams have stopped. I just want to know why I keep looking toward the bathroom, as if I was waiting for someone I hadn't seen in a long time, to appear there out of nowhere. I hate this."

CASEFILE FINISHED

There is little information that the Morticians have, but all the casefiles read almost identically. Very few details change. The location of where the body is found, the location of the primary fear source is always where the deceased's skin would end up. The complete lack of drain piping. Lack of water usage for the location. The earliest recorded instance was twenty two years ago, with all of he noted cases occurring within the United States. The assorted victims seems to be at random. No connections could be found even with new data located upon additional victims. This would be cause for concern, but given the hundred of casefiles I am still going through indicates that there are likely to e other events as well.

I had a visitor the other day. When I was taking the initial plunge past the Dark Web, and going into the depths of the Deep Web, I observed an administrator for a Red Room was intrigued by my fleeting visit to his site. He and some friends located me, by tracking the unique data signature of the custom program I was using. They bragged about killing my friend who gave me the program.

It was interesting seeing them try to intimidate me, their smiles hidden behind masks, showed me that they still suffered from an emotional range. The fight was swift, and the muscle brought along were dead at my feet. The 'brain' was incapacitated and secured in the chair I was in previously. We had a conversation about his desire to kill me, and the lengths he took. He was defiant to the end. Not that it mattered. He mentioned that he told other admins he was tracking the one that got away, but gave no further details. I opened his veins and watched off=screen as he slowly bled to death.

He wanted a show for his red room, a reminder of how he was a God with the power to judge the unworthy and he had the power to decide when a life would end. He, apparently, was wrong. I smashed the camera after he died. I contacted the Morticians, and they took care of the fools.

Beginning

132

part 1

The staff brought us the biggest and most beautiful bouquet of flowers.

At first my wife didn't want to accept the gift. But then thought better of it.

"Thank you all so much," Vanessa said.

We'd be saying the same thing over and over as the day progressed.

The entire faculty became an extension of our family, caring for our daughter as though she were their own flesh and blood.

"Treatment will begin immediately, we find patients who start with care before they go home have a better chance at survival," the doctor told us as we finished eating our lunch.

My wife fidgeted in her chair uncomfortably and looked toward our daughter. Then she whispered, "Can we talk outside about this? I don't want to upset her."

The doctor nodded and led us out to give us a few minutes to compose ourselves before Vanessa finally talked.

"Doctor..." she began. "Please; call me Paul," he insisted. "Fine... Paul. Are you a father?" she asked.

"Yes. Two kids at home and one more on the way," Paul answered with a broad smile.

"What would you do... in a situation like this?" Vanessa asked. Paul frowned up and thought it over for a moment. "I would try my hardest to listen to the doctors. I would be scared of course, and feel responsible for everything. But I would do everything necessary to help my child," he said.

My wife exchanged a worried glance with me. "I've seen those ads on tv about children that have cancer. Are you telling me that our little girl may wind up like that?" she asked.

"I'm not going to lie to you, there is always a risk when it comes to therapy. It could very well make the condition worse, it could end her life," Paul paused and looked at us sternly.

"But I would much rather do something rather than nothing. If you remain complacent, you will never forgive yourself for everything that she goes through. The decision is yours to make at this point, no one else can make it for you. But I am asking you to carefully think over what is best for your daughter," Paul said.

I could see Vanessa was visibly shaking now. She was scared. Frightened we would make the wrong decision. I reached for her hand and squeezed it gently.

"Will it hurt her?" I asked.

"We will make her comfortable for the entire process," the doctor said.

"I... I don't want to do this," my wife said.

The doctor frowned at her sudden outburst.

"This is your daughter's life we are talking about here, Missus Colton," he said sternly.

"And you said we could make a decision? Well I've made mine. I don't want to see her suffer," Vanessa replied.

She walked back to the room before the doctor could say anything else. He raised an eyebrow at me and I shrugged, "Women."

"Your wife will need you to convince her sooner, rather than later, Mister Colton," the doctor explained.

"She just needs time," I told him. "There is a small window of opportunity we have here before her condition worsens and treatment will be pointless. I understand that all of this is a shock to you. But the percentile of children who have come back from stage 1 is astounding. Right now, the odds are in your daughter's favor," he told me.

I nodded my head. Told him I understood. Then I walked back to the room to talk to my wife. Vanessa was sitting there staring at our little girl when I got in the room. She didn't make eye contact with me.

"You're not going to change my mind," she said. "The doctors seem to believe that this is the best option," I replied.

"You seriously want to?" Vanessa asked.

I was torn up inside. I could see the pain our daughter was in. But I knew what we had been through to get to this point.

"Let me talk to the reverend one more time," I told her. I rustled her hair gently and kissed her before grabbing my bag and leaving.

I called Patrick around 10 that morning and made arrangements to stop by the chapel around lunch. I did a few odd jobs here and there, mowing lawns and weed eating to earn a little cash for my meal.

Even though Tuesdays were the day the church had a luncheon for the local Salvation Army, I didn't want to make it seem like I couldn't afford my own food. Not that I could eat anyway. The stress made my stomach hurt.

The Reverend was waiting for me in the archives.

"Robert. You look like you haven't slept in days," he said softly. I sat down beside him, wondering how tired and worn my face looked and muttered, "It seems much longer than that."

"What is troubling you, child?" Patrick asked. I told him the situation at the hospital, and he listened intently to every concern.

"Come with me," he said once I finished talking. Even though I was too exhausted to pick up my feet I obeyed and followed him toward the lower levels of the archives.

One thing that Reverend Dumonte prides himself with is the sheer enormity of his personal library. He believes that every book is a gift from god, especially the ones that are written by men inspired.

He pulled out a large volume from one of the lower shelves and dusted off the cover. It was written in a language I couldn't understand, but I didn't question the reason for him showing me.

"There are many things in this world we can't control Robert. But if we take steps to gain knowledge, than it can prepare us for the hardship and help us make it through to the other side," Dumonte said.

He turned the pages and showed me images that I can't begin to describe. Creatures that I have only seen in feverish nightmares danced across the page. There was sketchings, drawings of mad men. And there were ones by children. Many more than I had expected. "This is a gift. Take it and it will help you," Dumonte told me.

The path felt clearer as he talked.

"God needs help sometimes, Robert. We can provide support in so many ways. The cancer you see, was an answer to your prayers," he explained.

"You really believe this will work? That we will finally have closure?" I asked.

"You must have faith, I have poured over this tome more often than I care to admit. And one thing has always stood out: if you believe that what you are doing will save your daughter than it will. Faith can move mountains, Robert," the reverend said.

"I... I want to believe. It just seems too good to be true," I admitted.

"You have come so far," he said. I wanted to cry. It felt like it could be exactly what we asked for to happen.

So I shook away my doubts. I returned to the hospital and I told my wife everything. We would start the treatment immediately.

Vanessa was worried but I helped her see that there was nothing to worry about. The doctor came in that evening when our daughter was awake and explained the treatment as best as he could to her.

When he was gone, she looked at me, scared and confused. "Daddy... am I going to die?" she asked.

I got up and leaned close to her, smelling the same odor I had on her for the past five years.

"I hope so," I whispered as I kissed her cheek. Vanessa squeezed my hand and smiled. Our daughter cried. She cried so hard she fell back asleep.

The dinner trays came and my wife and I ate. It felt good to have food in our bellies again. "I've forgotten how much I like burgers," Vanessa said.

"When this is over... I want to take you to a restaurant. The kind that we can dress up for. I want you to look stunning," I told her.

"How long?" she asked. "If we're lucky? A few months," I told her. She ate in silence for a few more minutes, something was bothering her.

"If... we're lucky. Why did you say that?" Vanessa asked. "What? No reason. Just talking out loud," I replied. "Robert... we're going to make it right? We'll be able to go home? Go back to our lives?" she asked as she put the fork down. Even though her hands were shaking and I knew she needed to eat, she suddenly had no appetite. "We'll make it work somehow," I told her.

Vanessa didn't want to talk anymore. She left the room and I was alone. I stared out the window and watched as gentle streaks of rain hit the glass. It made me feel so sleepy and nothing was making me want to fight it.

I closed my eyes before I knew it. I was at the house again. My daughter stood in the foyer and then got down on her knees to play with two dolls.

She asked me to come play and I sat on the floor. The dolls reminded me of Vanessa and I. She took out a pair of scissors.

I told her to stop. But all she did was smile. She cut the doll's hair first. Then he ripped off their clothes.

Then she uses the point of the scissors to gauge out their eyes. "Why did you do this?" I remember asking. "I don't like when mommy and daddy look at me," she said.

I cried as I saw what she did next. My body felt numb. The scissors went toward the doll's neck.

Vanessa shook me awake. I remember trembling as she passed me a few pills. "Just a little while longer," she told me as she took her own. It was the only way to keep awake.

Then I saw she had a brown bag in her hand. "What is that?" I asked. She opened it discreetly and I saw a syringe inside.

"Plan b," she told me. I was lost for words as she placed it in her purse. I could tell she was far more determined than I was.

"We're not bringing her home, Robert. We can't." It was a statement.

"We need to think this through," I said. "We're both going to come out on the other side," she reassured me.

I looked toward the sleeping form of our daughter. I was beginning to get a clearer idea of what the other side might be.

I wasn't sure we deserved to go there anymore.

4

Now, before I start, let me just give you some background. I am a regular guy, going about my life just like anyone else, eat, sleep, work and finally reach the weekends. Then, on Monday, it repeats. My life is very uneventful, well, was, until last week when the dreams started. I have changed everyone's names for privacy's sake. Even if their existence is questionable.

Focusing more on the 'sleep' aspect of my life though. Last week on Monday, I went to sleep earlier than usual since I felt much more drained than normal for a Monday. However, I woke up again almost as soon as I fell asleep. Slowly coming to my senses and thinking about whether I could get away with snoozing for another ten minutes. After deciding to get to work on time for once, I groggily reached my arm out to my nightstand to find my glasses. After a short arm-flailing dance, I finally found them. As soon as I put on my glasses I instantly realised that I had woken up in a bed that was not my own. As I wiped the sleep from my eyes, I took in the surrounding white sterile walls, the door without, which seemed to be missing a handle, the weirdly shaped white smooth nightstand and finally the arm-flailing white bed with a similar design to the nightstand.

My first impressions were that of a hospital room. There were no windows in the room, the only light there was emanating seemingly from somewhere in the ceiling and I could not pinpoint an exact light source. After taking another good look around the room, I decided I should get up and look around. As soon as I got up from the bed, one of the walls which I thought was blank, opened up revealing a jump-suit like set of clothes on a white coat rack. I walked over to have a look at it. The material was definitely synthetic, it had a rubbery texture, but at the same time, it was smooth and silky to the touch. It had small orange stripes running down the sides which matched the leggings. The top also had the name 'Axton' printed in the same small orange font on the left-hand side of the chest.

After putting on the jumpsuit I was startled by another wall opening up to reveal a window. A bright light streamed through it. After my eyes adjusted to the light I was faced with many different colours. Most predominantly the deep red colour of the ground. purple tree-like plants and some things I can not even describe. I was pulled out of my trance by a sudden beeping, like an alarm clock. I looked at the nightstand where a small plate had slid out, with the numbers '0700', and a red button on top of it. I pressed the button which stopped the beeping. After one final look over the room, I decided to try and find out how the door worked. When I walked up to it a small number pad appeared next to the door with a lock icon, I pressed it, and the door slid open. As soon as I got outside my room I saw many other doors, just like mine.

One of the other doors opened up, and a dark-haired, strongly-built man walked out and made across to a small doorway at the far end of the room. Slowly, more and more doors opened up and people walked out. I decided to join the crowd and followed everyone to the doorway. There was chatter all around, people were talking to each other in small groups. I saw someone catching up to me out of the corner of my eye. I slowed down a little to let them catch up and heard my name being called. I turned around to see a group of 3 people wishing me good morning and asking me how my night was. I also happened to notice that they all had the same orange stripes and names on their jumpsuits.

Catalina, a blonde haired woman of medium-build, Darius, a dark-haired heavily-built guy and Genesis, a dark-haired heavily-build woman, all about my age. They were saying that they barely caught up to me, and asked me why I didn't wait back for them. I made up some replies and then walked with them listening to their small-talk. The small doorway lead us to a huge cafeteria, my small group went towards a peculiar looking robot which turned out to be just a breakfast serving machine.

While we were sitting at breakfast, a commotion erupted on the other side of the cafeteria. Someone had attacked their own group. A couple of armed security came in and managed to knock out the person who caused the commotion, as he was being carried out to the infirmary, I saw that he had green stripes on his jump-suit and that a small stream of blood was coming out of his right eye. After I questioned it, Cat informed me that people had started to become aggressive at random since their arrival on planet 4549B, the doctors put it down as psychological stress after the several hundred years that was spent in a cryogenic sleep.

After breakfast, there was a roll-call, and then each group was assigned a task for the day. We were assigned to explore a cave that was found in the area. After we put on our mobile suits, the four of us set out in a small buggy to the entrance of the cave. The cave started as a large gaping hole in the ground, there was enough space for the four of us to all fit through at once, we slowly started descending down a rope that was set up. As I was descending, I hit my right arm against one of the rocks. Then, I woke up.

I looked around and saw that I was back in my own bed at home. Then I felt a jabbing pain in my right arm and realised that I had rolled over onto it in the night, and I started to slowly feel some tingling sensations in the arm. I thought nothing more of it and passed it off as a dream. The Tuesday went by without any interesting events, and I hadn't had any dreams since then. However, last night, I went to sleep early, once again, and I woke up almost instantly once again.

For a second time, I was in the white room, however, instead of everything being white and sterile, there were red streaks over parts of the room. I noticed that I was covered in red dirt and I looked like I hadn't had a shower in weeks. I was up almost instantly, going over to the door. The lock keypad appeared again, I tapped it. When I stepped out I was met with a horror scene, bodies littered the floor and there were pools of blood everywhere. I didn't have any sort of weapon, not even a knife to protect myself from whatever was happening. So I slowly started to sneak over to the cafeteria door, when the doors slid open, I was met with tables blocking the doorway, I could see someone on the other side through a crack between the tables. They seemed to have a gun and must have been on guard.

Then I heard an exhale on the other side of the room I was in. I looked over and saw a figure hunched over a body that was lying on the ground. I instinctively backed away from the figure. While I was backing away, I must have stepped on something on the ground which cracked. It was very quiet but just audible enough that the figure started turning its head toward me. This was the first time I managed to have a good look at its face. It had deep wounds all over its face and it barely resembled a human. Its eyes were completely black with red rings in the centre. It started quickly running towards me and I started to back away from it toward the cafeteria doorway. Finally, I felt the table that was blocking the doorway against my back, I had no more room to back away into. The 'thing' kept running toward me. I closed my eyes and shielded my head with my arms, preparing for the worst. I felt it grab my hand, but right as I thought everything was over, I felt two hands grab me from behind and I was pulled into the cafeteria. After I was pulled in I recall looking at my arm where the 'thing'grabbed me and seeing a black viscous liquid running down it and slowly burning through my skin. Through my blurred vision, I saw a familiar face, but couldn't quite figure out who it was before I drifted out of consciousness.

When I drifted out of consciousness in my 'dream' I woke up in my own bed at home. The first thing I felt was the throbbing pain in my arm. I looked over to see deep marks on my right arm. I'm now sitting here writing this since I am afraid to go to sleep in fear of what I might see, or what might happen to me.

I'm not sure whether I can control the dream in any sort of way, or how exactly what I am dreaming of could be connected to anything. I also don't know how things that happen in the dream transfer onto me in the 'real' world.

I'm not sure what to do at this point. But I'll give it another night and update you all on what happens.

Wish me luck

249

It was the weirdest thing. I blinked in disbelief when the notification buzzed from my phone. It appeared I had a new follower but this surely couldn't be right...because the new follower was me. My username put in place right before where it says "Has started following you!" I unlocked my phone and opened the new follower's page and sure enough, it was identical to mine. Exact same pictures, except they bore no likes or comments. The only difference was there were zero followers and the page was only following one other. Mine.

I figured this had to be a glitch and the app mistakenly loaded some fucked up version of my page. I nervously laughed it off and noticed that I could follow myself back. Without thinking. I did so and then copied a link to the page to send in the group chat. I did so and put the phone in my pocket.

A few moments later it vibrated and my friend Brandon was the first to reply.

"I'm not sure what you want us to see? The link seems to be broken"

Confused, I clicked the link myself but it worked perfectly fine. I told it was nothing important as a couple more messages came through saying the same thing. I said it was just a link to a funny picture and sent a different link to one I saw yesterday. They bought it but...I didnt understand why the link wouldn't work for them.

I shrugged it off and went about my day as normal.

It was around 7pm when I got the next notification.

I was watching T.V. and munching on some chips when my phone dinged. I looked over at the screen to see the Instagram logo. Sitting up, I opened my phone and saw that I had gotten a push notification that my doppleganger page had posted a picture. I knew for damn sure I didnt turn them on but what was odd about it was that all the pictures on the page matched mine up to my most previous one I posted yesterday. I started to get a little freaked out but...my curiosity got the better of me. Intrigued, I clicked to open the page and when I saw the newest picture, I bolted up right.

The picture was taken in a graveyard around dusk. It focused on one headstone with a familiar face standing next to it.

My face, to be exact.

I was standing next to the stone with a huge grin on my face and an arm resting atop it. My other hand was waving to the camera. With a sinking feeling, I read my wife's name across the gravestone.

"What the fuck..." was all I whispered. I have never taken this picture. The person in the photo couldn't possibly be me...and yet it was. I even was wearing the same outfit earlier. There was nothing in the description either, only the picture itself.

Just then, the door knob started to turn. I looked to the front door with a start and quickly sat back down on the couch. It opened slowly and no one came through for a few seconds until...

My wife stepped into the house carrying a few grocery bags. She sat them down and looked to me after closing the door.

"John, are you okay? It looks as if you've seen a ghost."

I looked back down at the picture and for a minute it felt like I was looking at a ghost. I got off the page and put the phone in my pocket. I stood up and told her I was just reading a scary story. She made fun of me for always scaring myself and I helped her get the rest of the bags in.

It's been two days since the picture was posted and I still haven't shown her. I'm not really sure how to go about it. The page hasn't posted any new pictures but I have a feeling there are more to come. I keep going back and looking at it and the more I look the more it just doesn't seem real...but it is. It really is me in that picture with a big fucking smile and an arm lazily resting on my still alive wife's grave.

I have no idea what to do and if anyone has experienced something like this, I would love some insight. I'll keep you guys updated if anything else happens.

3

Briefly, in my 20s I worked as a cna in a small care facility in a small town east of Salem, Oregon. I went through all the proper training at the facility, received my certification and began hands on experience. I started out on one of the more challenging floors, everyone wanted to work on the easy floor called Marion hall, but those spots fill up fast and I ended up on the second floor hall called Breitenbush. I chose to work the later shift because I was commuting and didn't want to have to get up at 5 am to drive there. This also left me with the chance to spend time with my two kids before I left for the afternoon.

One night I was clocking in and my supervisor told me that they needed my help on another floor. Since my floor was not full, the sent me over. This was a floor not many people like to voluntarily work on. The name of the floor escapes me at the moment. But it was the only other floor on the second story.

The reason that no one wanted to work this floor, especially during the second and third shifts was because it was part of the original building, and had quite a few stories floating around about it. From stories about nuns who still roam the halls to patients coming back to visit their favorite nurses, or not so favorite ones.

I don't recall all the stories about the place but here is what I know... Like most place in this town, it was owned by the Catholic church and ran by the nuns when it was first established. The original part of the building was two floors (now three) in the front part of the current facility.

You know when you're in the older part, the floors squeak and pop under your feet.

The night I was sent to work on the older floor, I ended up working with a girl who had been a year ahead of me in school. We knew of eachother, but had not been in the same social circles. She told me when I arrived, after we caught up, That weird stuff occured often on the floor, but not to worry about it too much if that stuff freaked me out. It doesn't, so I told her not to worry about it and she gave me a quick tour.

The floors where all one long hallway, she showed me where the charts were, where the supply closet was, and who was who in each room. As we neared the end of the hallway she slowed down and explained that there was a small "L" shaped corner at the end where there were three doors, one on each wall. It was the only hall that had a small turn at the end, most floors had a door at the end for an exit for safety, but being the older floor it didn't have this.

She explained that for some reason, the residents that were put in those three rooms at the end never seemed to stay long. Also, that many times you will see shadows or movement by this corner, like someone is hiding down here.

After the tour we went back to the nurses station and decided it was time to do our, what we called "rounds", not like what doctors do, just to see if everyone was sleeping, needed to be cleaned up, or whatever. just as we were grabbing the files and standing by the counter at the nurses station talking about which side to start on, we both glanced down the hall and froze.

There at the end of the hall was a dark shadow... Now, remember this is night time and the lights are dimmer at night, the end of that hallway was always pretty dark, but there, at the end was someone or something standing there. We put down the files and began to walk towards the end. We saw the figure dart around the corner where the three rooms were.

We stopped dead in our tracks. I quietly whispered to the other nurse, "I don't suppose that was a resident?" She shook her head no and said, Not likely. I think we must have stood there for a solid minute, both of us frozen and not wanting to go down there. The paranormal doesn't usually scare me, but this hall was just creepy as hell. Finally we were able to move and slowly, quietly made our way down the hall.

After what seemed like an eternity to make it to the end we used our pen lights to shine around the corner before venturing further. Nothing. We then peeked into all the rooms at the end, everyone was snoozing away. So, the residents were not up, then what was that?

We made our way back down the hallway and as we did, we heard the floor pop and squeak behind us back at the end. We turned and peeked over our shoulders...the shadow was standing just behind the corner. Nervously and somewhat loudly I said, "OK! Lets go start our rounds now and let these folks here sleep". Needless to say we did our checks in record time, and spent the rest of the evening talking about what happened while filling in charts. We were required to make three checks in the evening on the residents and all three were done quickly. We spend as little time as possible near the end of the hallway. But still making sure we did what we needed to do.

Just to note there were many rumors about nuns and a grumpy resident who roamed that hallway. I never had to sub on that floor again.

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NoSleep is a community for original horror stories. Stories may be true or not (but they are usually not). While most of our stories are fiction, we treat all stories like true, real life experiences, because the best scares come when you are immersed in the story. If it helps, don’t think of it as reading a story. Think of it as witnessing an event.

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